Black Hearted Brother – Stars Are Our Home

Black Hearted Brother - Stars Are Our Home

Black Hearted Brother – Stars Are Our Home

There isn’t any way I can write about Black Hearted Brother without mentioning Slowdive. Neil Halstead was the prime mover in the various Slowdive line ups and Stars Are Our Home is a quite definite continuation of what Slowdive set out to achieve. And if Just For A Day and Souvlaki received less than glowing receptions from the music press of the 1990s, Halstead and his assorted bandmates must feel somehow vindicated at the legacy of a band now revered as one of the most influential Shoegaze groups of the late 80s/early 90s. Actually working with Brian Eno may have helped, and it is true that Slowdive had a more positive response in the US than in the UK, but there isn’t any question that Neil Halstead is one of the most influential songwriters of that period, or that he and his present bandmates – longtime collaborators Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holton – have much more to offer us than just a guided tour of their former glories.

Basically, what Halstead, Holton and Van Hoen have done is to purposefully cast aside much of their collective histories and do exactly what they want in the studio. The result is slightly overlong and occasionally repetitive, but it’s also a determined sounding reappraisal of the abilities of the three musicians and also an album that could slide unnoticed into the myriad of Indie releases of the last decade, raising only one or two significant ripples as it does so. Except that it’s an as good as new Slowdive/Mojave 3 album and a lot of other musicians are going to want to hear it. So, is it fair of me to say that Black Hearted Brother could have put a bit more into Stars Are Our Home? Because they could, in one very important part of their instrumentation. I think I know what a drum machine sounds like and while it can add a defining ambiance to a track, it can also get a bit samey and that very nearly does happen during the almost exactly 60 minutes of Stars Are Our Home, which is a bit of a pity as Neil Halstead and his two cohorts have certainly got something worth hearing going on.

So, sounding not very like either Slowdive or Mojave 3, but sounding as if they were in a bit of a hurry in the studio, Black Hearted Brother bring us an album that’s probably deliberately part demo recording and that perhaps nods more in the direction of Fugazi and Mercury Rev than of the Cocteau Twins and MBV. Certainly, “This Is How It Feels” had me recalling something of the gleeful delirium of “Deserter’s Song’s” and the overall sound of the album takes on a live aspect, bolstered by the electronica that takes precedence on songs such as “My Baby Just Sailed Away” and “Take Heart” and which (certainly the second of these) contain the detectable influence of Pulp, to a point where it’s only too easy to imagine an in-his-prime Jarvis Cocker swaggering around in front of the BHB trio. Final track “Look Out Here They Come” is perhaps the song that really encapsulates what Black Hearted Brother are up to. A breezy pop tune, a danceable rhythm, phased guitars and even the drum machine sounding alright, at 2.39 it’s the shortest track on the album and also the song that is nearest in spirit to Slowdive at their early 90s peak.

And this is where I am, like other reviewers before me, maybe just a little too critical of the music of Neil Halstead and his bandmates because if there was ever a music genre that ignored the existence of anything approaching irony or even humour in music then that genre is what is still referred to as Shoegaze, a term defined by musicians that, for whatever reason, weren’t looking at their audience. I won’t suggest that Slowdive’s Just For A Day album is full of hidden in-jokes and knowing allusions to assorted trends of the time but Black Hearted Brother is a deceptively grim sounding name for the imagination and continuing invention that Halstead, Holton and Van Hoen can bring us today. Dodgy drum machine sound or not, Stars Are Our Home is an involving summation of a quarter century of musicianship, and we can definitely expect more, if not exactly the same, from Black Hearted Brother.