Black Hearted Brother

Stars Are Our Home

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When it was first announced that Neil Halstead was going to be making a record that had a heavy shoegaze/noise element, it was fair for people to expect the second coming of Slowdive. After all, they were one of the guiding lights of that scene and one of the few bands not to reunite, despite the desires of their always-growing fan base. However, when Black Hearted Brother's debut album Stars Are Our Home hit the shelves in late 2013, it was clear that while the project did display a few elements of the classic Slowdive sound, it was informed just as much by the music Halstead has made since that band's breakup (both with Mojave 3 and as a solo act), and by the input of the other two members of the group, electronic wizard Mark Van Hoen (Seefeel, Locust) and Nick Holton (Holton's Opulent Oog, Coley Park). The album the three sonic travelers made together is sprawling, messy, full of great ideas, and ultimately quite rewarding. Though it never fully takes off and is at times a little overcooked, the songs are almost always involving, with clever production techniques, little touches of witty electronics (courtesy of Van Hoen), and occasional moments of noisy brilliance. It's nice to hear how the simple and true songwriting of Halstead blends with the electronic textures Van Hoen brings and the solid support of Holton. The tracks that work the best are those where the trio works the hardest to incorporate their strengths, like on the shimmering ballad "This Is How It Feels," the slow-as-molasses dream pop gem "If I Was Here to Change Your Mind," or the rollicking "UFO," which sounds the most like a blend of all of Halstead's career in a five-minute burst of sound and noise. The album works less well when they lock into a groove or sound and let it ride for too long (the album-opening "Stars Are Our Home",) disappear into formless gloom ("I'm Back"), or lean too heavily on the electronic side of the scale (the meandering "Oh Crust"). These less than thrilling songs do still have enough positive energy and punch to be interesting, though, and their shortcomings are made up for by the rest of the record's strengths. Like the brilliant shoegaze track "I Don't Mean to Wonder," that has all the drama and heart-swelling emotional impact of a classic Slowdive song, plus an equally mind-numbing guitar attack. Or the cute and ringing electronic pop tune, "Look Out Here They Come," that ends the album with a giant smile. Despite its scattered nature, Stars Are Our Home is worth hearing for a few reasons. It's satisfying to hear Halstead making some noise again after being a barefoot beach bum for so long; it's as close to Slowdive as anyone is ever likely to hear again, and, most importantly, when the songs and sounds come together and soar, it's a thrillingly bright and shiny noise pop album that is a positive addition to all the participants' already impressive résumés.

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