Local Listens for the Lockdown: Ordinary Magic by Starover Blue
Written by Ned Tilbrook on May 1, 2020
While we can’t attend shows KPSU is bringing you word about the finest music from our local Portland artists to listen to at home during the lockdown in our weekly column, Local Listens for the Lockdown.
FFO: Beach House, Cocteau Twins, Wye Oak
This week’s Local Listen for the Lockdown is the latest album from experimental dream-pop band Starover Blue, last year’s Ordinary Magic. The band is the project of married couple Dirk Molitz and Kendall Sallay, who met at San Jose State University in 2007 in choir and soon afterwards formed a band. They moved to Portland in 2016 (the same year that debut album Spacegeist was released) after becoming familiar with the city’s venues. “We’d been attending Music Fest Northwest every fall for our anniversary, and we knew we wanted to live here and play at clubs like Bunk Bar, Holocene, and Doug Fir,” says Kendall Sallay. For their latest release the band decided to self-record in a remote, magical cabin. “We probably won’t ever go to a studio again,” says Kendall. The experience was clearly a positive one for the band and the locale of the recording is reflected in the ethereal, magical texture of the music.
Ordinary Magic opens with ‘Janeway’: the Juno-106 burbles warmly over the beat with Sallay’s vocals adding an ethereal layer to the sound. Lyrically, this song was something of a challenge for Sallay: “the week or so before the tracks were due, I had still not written lyrics or vocals. The instrumental was one of my favorites that Dirk had written, so I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to not screw it up,” she says. However, she adds that it ended as a favorite on the record, saying that the song reflects the band’s relationship to their own music. In particular, the lyrics suggest a determination to enjoy that creative engagement with music while it is available:
The past and future get under my skin
Fear that this happiness will not come back again
But when I’m too tired, I still play these parts
Cause our time’s not enough
It’s over before it starts
‘A B Y’ provides another example of the way in which Starover Blue manage to create a warm and soothing music that is nevertheless tinged with a forceful quality. Again, this completeness emerges from the interaction of the vocals and instrumental parts as this time the vocals ground the ethereal Juno-driven music. The interaction of these two part is perhaps a reflection of how the band writes. “Dirk and I approach songwriting completely differently,” Kendall says, “I’m very much in the ‘wait for inspiration to strike’ camp, documenting fragments of ideas over prolonged periods of time. Dirk is more disciplined, locking himself away regularly to focus on creating new material. One of my favorite parts of our process is when two of our seemingly disparate ideas lock together perfectly to complete a song.” This is certainly a dynamic that can be felt throughout the album, the synthesis of these two parts, these two styles of creation, to bring into existence a dynamic whole, and in particular on ‘A B Y’.
‘The Howl Makes No Sound’ takes on conspiratorial tones, with samples in the background reminiscent of whispering voices and backwards-played tapes. It gives the feeling of discovering magical secrets beneath an all-encompassing forest canopy. ‘Parlor Trick’, meanwhile, is a critique of the funeral industry and its exploitation of grieving loved ones that is candid, without ever being overly blunt:
A money grab, a parlor trick
No I don’t wanna play
But if you want to die dignified
You’re gonna have to pay
In this song, Starover Blue demonstrate a willingness to discuss real issues in their music. In particular, in highlighting an issue that many experience only rarely and perhaps not at all for long parts of their life, the band draw attention to a form of exploitation that often goes unnoticed. Despite this, the song retains a soothing quality, seemingly recognizing that such exploitation is layered on top of suffering and grief which is, in turn, recognized as the basis for this exploitation and soothed as such.
The album ends with its self-titled track, ‘Ordinary Magic’. This song starts off with perhaps one of the airiest passages of the album, as though the song could simply float away on a breeze. However, a thundering chorus then crashes in which Kendall sings the refrain ‘That’s no ordinary magic.’ This contrast between the solid and the air marks a fitting end to the album.
Throughout, you can sense the influence of the ‘ordinary’ magic of, say, staying in a remote cabin and enjoying nature. Despite this magical quality, the album still manages to feel very centered and tangible. Overall this wonderful, ethereal record gives you the feeling of a meaningful, yet complicated dream that demands your attention, with the final track representing the sensation of waking up from that dream and trying to cling on to that feeling. This is an excellent album let wash over you, becoming more enjoyable and interesting with each listen.
- Ned (Real Soon in Rose City)