Jeff Pearson, February 26, 2013
Listen: “While I’m Alive”
Growing up, every birthday started the same way. My mom would tip-toe into my room, reach for the nearest boom box (or jam box, as they were referred to in my house), and pop in this tape—bought long ago in some rest area, gift shop, some forgotten corner of the southeast that she happened upon at some point in the eighties. The tape was one song, a birthday song, performed by Space Commander Zoom where an astral-travelling crooner would sing to me of all the wonders of his journeys that he wanted to bring me for my birthday, finally—cheaply, in my opinion—landing on simply giving me the gift of this song he was already singing me. The song set the tone for every birthday, though; each of those mornings felt like an out-of-body experience, with eerie tape hiss colliding into even more eerily dissociated spaceman rumblings of “kukelchus” and “three-eyed tickelshays,” typically starting my day off in a wave of confusion. The cassette’s demise was just about the worst thing to ever happen to my mom; nothing will come close to leaving her kids in a dazed heap on our beds, but I have been able to replicate that inebriation that Zoom left me with as he soared out of the right channel of my second-rate jam box every year. All it took was Starfucker.
Over the course of their first two records, the Portland, Oregon outfit Starfucker (often referred to as their de-voweled stylization STRFKR) have teetered the line of disorientingly unfamiliar and cozily nostalgic. Their last record, Reptilian, skirted that line pretty much constantly; there were moments when the jarringly quirky coincided with well-worn pop ideals, creating an interesting blend of the old and the new. With Miracle Mile, Starfucker have picked up right where they left off, planting themselves further into each identity’s territory while penning their most cohesive work to date. It’s funny how that works, really. The band has pulled their sound even further in separate directions but have met closer to the middle than ever before.
Miracle Mile starts with a technicolor blast, hardly giving you time to prepare with the swirling chants of “While I’m Alive” seemingly picking up in the middle of an already raucous tune. Joshua Hodges’ voice oscillates between silken and gravelly, whichever best suits the song at the time, and he drives the message of the song home repeatedly to enjoy every moment, “Keep on telling myself to live my life / Fall down like everything else / Just keep on breathing, you’ll live.” It’s a fitting mantra for a band like Starfucker. No matter how twisted their version of pop music, how far from the thundering pulse of the straightforward, there is always a deep communiqué of danceability in their music, something that we sometimes overlook as important. In placing “While I’m Alive” right at the front of the record, Starfucker aren’t necessarily sending a message that we’re getting the all-PLUR side of them, but there’s certainly an air of immediacy behind it that pervades many of the album’s cuts. Among them, “Atlantis” shines as perhaps the band’s greatest statement in forget-everything-and-dance. Hodges playfully exchanges lines with Patrick Morris over the neatly-packaged pop song; the bell-like guitar that serves as the track’s outro reminds us all why we love pop music so much.
If you don’t love pop music so much, however, Miracle Mile isn’t just a throwaway record. “Malmo” warps Metroid-style laser beams into synth lines and Starfucker play the role of acid-tongued flower children lost inside The Prophet on “Kahil Gibran.” They continually take risks throughout the course of the record, and at fifteen tracks, Miracle Mile has a large payout. It’s perhaps due to the fact that so many ideas burst into life on the record that it is surprising how succinct and focused it is. Normally a fifteen-track, nearly hour effort that traverses so much ground sonically might feel abit drawn out, but Miracle Mile ends too quickly.
It ends with a bang, however “Nite Rite” is Starfucker at their best, all of the dramatic style shifts held within Miracle Mile rolled up into one seven-minute display of patience and payoff. A thick, rolling bassline and rifling guitars–the kind of studio trickery that will have you turning your music down over and over thinking your car is broken as the guitar feedback creeps from channel to channel–give way to noisy interludes and a trance-like rhythmic pulse. It doesn’t do a lot, thematically, but it is as fitting of an end to a record like Miracle Mile as any. It’s the kind of ending I had to every birthday morning: comfortably confused and always looking forward to the next playthrough.