With their engaging third full-length, the Starlight Mints should put to rest the comparisons with fellow Oklahomans the Flaming Lips. Yes, the Starlight Mints concoct oddball pop with a musical pawn shop's worth of instrumentation, but the sonic touchstones for Drowaton -- "not a word," in reverse -- are probably more Kinks, Beatles, and Camper Van Beethoven than Wayne Coyne. As usual with the Mints, there's plenty of quirkiness to go around, which is both the band's strength and occasional Achilles heel. Despite their relative brevity, Mints' songs are expansive affairs, chock-full of soulful horn sections and lush string, keyboard, and synth arrangements, multiple tempo and time changes, and Allan Vest's shape-shifting vocals. "Pumpkin" opens the record with Vest adopting Curtis Mayfield's falsetto over Stax blasts from the horns and fuzzed-out keyboards; Vest channels Ray Davies on the strings-driven "Seventeen Devils," and sounds like David Byrne fronting the Clash on "Eyes of the Night" (which lifts the slashing guitar syncopation straight off of Combat Rock's "Know Your Rights"). "The Killers" is a straightforward acoustic folk tune, "Rosemarie" is "Penny Lane"-like Beatles pop buffeted by horns and cello swirls, and "The Bee" recalls the nervous energy of Armed Forces-era Elvis Costello, while the menacing stomp and circus strings of the instrumental "Rhino" would have fit quite neatly on an early Camper Van Beethoven record. Indeed, there are so many styles at work you get the sense that whenever the Mints think a song starts to sound too familiar, they quickly head in another sonic or temponic direction. By and large this is a healthy approach, but occasionally the musical diversions feel counterproductive. The stop-and-go tempo change in the two-minute rave-up "Pearls (Submarine #2)," for instance, sap a little steam from its full-throttle crescendo, and there's so much going on in the title cut (the record's only five-minute song) that it feels like a handful of songs mashed together. The record's best tune (and one of the best pop songs you'll hear) is, paradoxically, one of its most traditional: "What's Inside Me" eschews the multiple time-changes and kitchen-sink instrumentation for an irresistible beat and piano-driven, four-piece sound with soaring choruses that virtually demand listener participation. Still, Drowaton pulses with ideas and energy, and there doesn't seem to be a musical style beyond the Mints' grasp. The record's minor blemishes are ambitious in nature, which is certainly preferable to mining the same worn territory over and over again. And that suggests mostly sunny, pop-filled skies ahead for the Starlight Mints.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by John Schacht