It’s all in the vocals—a little nerdy, often in falsetto, frequently opting for non-words like “la la la” and “ooh-wee-ooh.” Oh, and there’s whistling too. It’s mainly within the sounds made by humans that The Starlight Mints are at their most quirky. Instrumentally, for the most part, they’re much humbler and less tripped-out than any other band that earns at least one Flaming Lips comparison per album review. The Starlight Mints are really only marginally weird in comparison to their Norman, OK neighbors. Though they may share the same affinity for lush arrangements, light-hearted sounds and unlikely hooks, their neatly crafted pop tunes sound a lot more like the work of a silly, but immensely talented power pop band.
When you get right down to it, The Starlight Mints are nothing if not a sing-along, hand-clapping, bippity-boppity good time. I’m pretty sure they can make anybody smile upon hearing them, and no one can sustain a bad mood after hearing their new album, Drowaton. At least, that’s how I react to it. I can’t help but feel good listening to the irresistible melodies, bobbing my head along to the Stax-like horns and bassy synth tones of “Pumpkin” and swaying to the sea shanty waltz in “Torts.” And, unlike those mouths aflame, their lyrical content tends to skew toward dadaist silliness as opposed to weightier political topics or musings on one’s own mortality.
Drowaton, the band’s third album, is their most consistently strong record yet, building each song with layers of fluid instrumentation all converging in a wonderful, harmonic sunburst. The Mints tackle a new style in almost every song, doing so deftly and without derailing the cohesiveness of the whole. “Seventeen Devils” takes on a Spanish flamenco style, while the stunning “The Killer” is graceful acoustic folk, easily standing up to The Shins’ quieter moments or Iron & Wine’s first album. “The Bee” is carnivalesque pirate punk, one moment when the band actually does attempt “weird” rather than “quirky,” but it still works, not the least reason being Allan Vest’s sharp power chord punches during the verses.
Suffice to say that when The Starlight Mints take aim at a straightforward rocker, they nail it, dead center. “What’s Inside of Me?” is one of the best power pop tunes to come out of the States since the Posies called it quits the first time around. Its driving piano melody, crunchy chords and Vest’s golden throat, which, surprisingly, doesn’t rely on falsetto, onomatopoeic words or whistling. Similarly “Pearls (Submarine #2)” rocks hard, a one-note bassline hammering throughout while guitars and synths take turns crashing and zooming. “Eyes of the Night” offers a similar promise, but leaves me somewhat less satisfied, as, for some reason, it reminds me of Fine Young Cannibals. That may just be my own personal hang-up though.
A little quirkiness goes a long way, and The Starlight Mints know this. Drowaton sure isn’t the weirdest record out there, but it’s just odd enough to keep it from being too serious, which is a quality that never really suited the band much in the first place. And on top of being a solid album, when you need to turn that frown upside down, Drowaton is a sure fire cure for the grumps.
Spinto Band – Nice and Nicely Done
Elf Power – A Dream in Sound
Pavement – Wowee Zowee
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.