Monday, 11 November 2013

REVIEW: Black Hearted Brother - 'Stars Are Our Home' (Sonic Cathedral Records)

A trio that features ex-Slowdive and Mojave 3 man Neil Halstead, Seefeel's Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holten (Holten's Opulent Oog), some would consider Black Hearted Brother something of a "supergroup". Traces of each musician's usual style can easily be heard across 'Stars Are Our Home', and their highly collaborative way of working has made for a sprawling, eclectic debut.

Kicking off with the six and a half minute title track, its post-rock atmospheres are placed perfectly before the stratospheric blast of the stunning 'I Don't Mean To Wonder', where waves of powerful shoegaze guitar surge over reverb-drenched vocals and dusty drums. The lo fi dream pop of 'This Is How It Feels' is the second of four major highlights, a lovely moment where heavenly Beach Boys harmonies meet Grandaddy's melancholia, while the harmonious digital glow of 'Got Your Love' provides a beautifully euphoric pop moment. 'If I Was Here To Change Your Mind''s building, piano flavoured drone rock signals another style leap, with Halstead singing like he's under heavy sedation, however the more melodic elements of the trio's sound reappear on the awesome 'UFO', where a driving acoustic groove rides into a huge, mesmeric chorus. Beginning in a delicate acoustic fashion before journeying into spacier places, 'Time In The Machine' explores just a few of the many qualities that the trio possess.


The sudden jolt of 'Oh Crust''s dark intergalactic intro is a bit of a sudden change of mood, not necessarily a good one, considering that the track could have easily been left off of the album, although some listeners may enjoy its heavy gloom, it's a relatively uninteresting dirge compared to everything else on offer here. Having said that, the psych-disco of 'My Baby Just Sailed Away' doesn't really do very much either. The downbeat resignation of 'Take Heart' is like some sort of cosmic ballad, melodic and probably also the most accessible thing here. It's one of the few moments here where the vocal feels like more of a leading feature rather than another instrument, like on the blissful highlight 'I'm Back' where the voice melts into soft waves of analogue synth. The lovely 'Look Out Here They Come' may come across as a rather lightweight closer at first, but doesn't take long to charm with its bright outlook and colourful, understated electronic charm.

It's a sprawling and often self indulgent piece of work, but bearing in mind that it was made with an "include everything we record" spirit, Black Hearted Brother appear to have done rather well. Maybe a bit of editing and a higher level of quality control on one or two tracks would have made for a stronger and more consistent album, but 'Stars Are Our Home' is what it is. At least you couldn't ever accuse them of not being diverse enough. 8/10




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