Leave Here a Stranger
- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2001 1 Jan
Leave Here a Stranger is the twelfth album from the band called Starflyer 59, which is incredible since they've been releasing music for only eight years. What's even more remarkable about the band is its boldness to continue in the face of tragedy. Sadly, legendary producer Gene Eugene, who had produced all of the band's albums, passed away last year. Yet without skipping a beat, the band pressed on with another release, this time with the equally legendary Terry Taylor at the production helm. The resulting album is terrific … provided you have the patience and appreciation for this kind of music.
It's natural to want to compare this to Radiohead's recent albums—it's ethereal and ambient, often quiet, and sometimes dark and moody. This is mostly due to the consistent instrumentation on the album, featuring Jason Martin's breathy vocals, the soft keyboards, and the jangly/dreamy guitars. There are also a lot of old production effects, such as the old high-pitched theremin sound, that give you the feeling you're listening to some sort of modern sequel to the Beach Boys' classic Pet Sounds album. No doubt this stems from producer Terry Taylor, an artist who's never been ashamed to wear his love for the Beach Boys on his sleeve. You might even say this feels a bit like a Daniel Amos recording, which was Terry Taylor's old band.
Before you start thinking this is a band everyone might embrace, it's actually quite the opposite. Those not up on their rock history should note that the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was an experimental album, as are recent efforts from Radiohead. Likewise, Starflyer 59 is one of those bands that you either get or you don't, with little in-between opinions. It's both modern and retro in sound—but rather than creating something that appeals to both audiences, Leave Here a Stranger seems to be an album that will be fully appreciated only by those who have a love for both old and new music. Starflyer 59 is a very melodic band, and songs such as "Things Like This Help Me," "When I Learn to Sing," and "This I Don't Need" are as catchy as anything they've ever done. The closing track, "Your Company," almost has a "Hey Jude" sing-a-long chorus feel to it.
Usually I warn people away from some alternative music because they aren't into the loud rock, but in the case of SF59, it's a matter of becoming too bored or sleepy from it. Their music is dream-like, and unless you're paying close attention, the music will wash over you with no effect. It takes extra effort to listen to this, and you can't listen to it where you might get easily distracted or while working out. SF59 is a band to listen to with your big headphones on late at night in a dimly lit room.
The band's Christian faith is still a big part of their music, though it's as understated as always. "Give Up the War" expresses the insecurity we feel as Christians, wanting to press on and do life right like Paul and the early apostles—"I read what they write, God's men of before / it's simply that I am still afraid to give up the war . …" It's a song that honestly handles Christian insecurity, complacency, and fear. Another winner is "Your Company," a sort of prayer song for God to become more present in our lives, featuring a great closing line for the album that points to God's Word for our answers—"I wish you'd turn me around / yeah I know what we need / I know how to read . …"
This is a good album, but it's not for the casual listener. If you're passive when listening to Leave Here a Stranger, you'll make the mistake I did initially and find the album boring and homogenous. Indeed, the album sags a little in the middle with three or four songs that feature the same vocal delivery, same jangly guitar strumming, same soft keyboards, same tempo, and even the same key! I didn't begin to fully appreciate the album until track 7, "I Like Your Photographs," which features a varied sound complete with piano foundation, cello, and backward sound loops. The album grew on me with multiple listens, however. It's sort of like listening to a 40-minute symphony, one complete body of work. If you don't have the patience to listen to one complete body of work as a whole, this isn't for you. But listeners who try to find the art within Leave Here a Stranger won't go away disappointed.