While many may not yet be familiar with Starline‘s music, both band members have had an undeniable influence on the Houston music scene. Former Houston Rocket Matt Maloney founded 12 Records, which released Arthur Yoria’s still-impressive I’ll Be Here Awake in 2003, and Calvin Stanley was the frontman/guitarist for the long-running alt-rock band Pale (you may remember the video for “Catastrophic Skies”).
Obvious fans of Eighties-era 120 Minutes bands, Stanley and Maloney incorporate the more synth-driven influences of that time (Depeche Mode is an obvious example) into their songs, making them both modern and familiar. Mostly absent are the requisite guitar solos; instead, Starline intersperses them with a heavy dose of loops and beats.
The ragged edges of the gloomy “Platinum Spider” contrast nicely with the upbeat “Four On The Floor,” catchy “Redacted,” and melodic album-standout “Everyone Makes A Sound.” One of four songs on CJM reworked from a self-titled debut EP quietly released digitally a couple of years ago, it would easily fit into Pale’s catalog. Despite the obvious studio tinkering–the album reportedly took two years to make–the duo (with assistance from producer Steve Christensen) shows restraint.
Those familiar with Pale’s fondness for anthemic hooks certainly won’t be disappointed with the songs on CJM, and will find common ground with the album’s introspective lyrics. CJM shows Stanley and Maloney to be kindred spirits in their songwriting and musical tastes, and much of the album also brings to mind another scruffy, brooding frontman that likes to noodle in the studio: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor. Their songs contain a similar strong undercurrent of pining for lost loves and frustration with current relationships (“I don’t want to descend to your condescension / I hate that I live and breathe you,” Maloney sings on “Unloveable”). Starline’s songs also show the men wrestling with the inevitability of growing older and the challenges, soul-searching, and jaded frustration this can bring.
For example, “Orphans”–another album high point–finds them coming to terms with the death of close family members (the album’s title is a tribute to Maloney’s brother, Christopher). “Will you come find us, if you can,” Stanley sings. “We just want to understand.”
There’s miscommunication, disenchantment, technophobia, anger, and this longing for meaning throughout Starline’s songs, along with a cocksure-yet-sensitive sense of “I’ve got nothing to lose and plenty left to prove.” This last aspect is most evident in album opener, “Bruise,” on which Stanley sings, “I’ve got a soul like a bulletproof vest / I’m hitting back at the expecting less.”
CJM combines these dark themes with mostly catchy–and often danceable–songs that weave Starline’s New Wave-era influences into something new without sounding overly derivative or dated. If Maloney and Stanley have something left to prove, it will be interesting to hear.