My unnamed friend responsible for last year's To My: Long Lost Love album is back about, creating more melancholy bedroom pop. He's been busy, as in the last few months, he's released not one, but two new albums. The puzzle is closer to completion, with these two works seemingly finalizing a trilogy.
The first of the two is titled Down at the Roller Rink. Judging from the cover photo above and the album's contents, it's based on a romance that was berthed and solidified at the old Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland. Being that I have my own fond, yet blurry, childhood memories of visiting the skating rink as a child, it figures that this album is an automatic emotional connection for me. Where To My: Long Lost Love was a stark, borderline bitter, in-the-moment capturing of pure feeling, Down at the Roller Rink is more reflective, more appreciative of the past. It has just as much of a feeling to it of one guy sitting alone with his thoughts, but there's just more of a brightness to some of the material here. The title track, which awesomely features the narrator playing the rink's vintage Wurlizter organ, is a floating waltz homage to both the previously mentioned lost love and the overall youthful atmosphere that burgeoning love produces (and that places like roller rinks facilitate). This album is just as unified as To My: Long Lost Love, but it is a lot stronger in the diversity department, as a handful of the album's tracks feature a full band backing. The best of which, and also the album's highlight, is the mildly 'Boys Don't Cry'-ish 'I Fell in Love.' Sure, it's just as lo-fi as anything else on here, but it's so good, to say it sounds like a Belle and Sebastian demo feels like it would be unfair to both sides. 'The Star' seems to be intended as the album's centerpiece and it definitely feels like the most soul-wrenching thing this musician has yet recorded. A building synth symphony that finds our narrator practically screaming "You are the star, yes you are" in the middle portion only to invite his muse in the conclusion to, "Shine your light on me, make me believe." It's so venerable and bare, I have hard time not, at the very least, admiring the earnestness of the whole thing. Just so happens there's catchy tunes going on as well. For all the more fleshed out, more produced moments on tunes like 'How Lonely' and the nearly arena-worthy 'What's it's Worth', I have to admit that I prefer the more sparse material that recalls To My: Long Lost Love. Side one piano ballad closer 'Woman of Wonder' wobbles along dreamily like a reflection on disrupted pond water, while 'Just Like Ghosts' closes out the album much the way 'What Do I Do With You' did on To My: Long Lost Love, with a slightly folky, mildly bouncy little strummer. Like To My: Long Lost Love, the album clocks in at around twenty five minutes, but also like its predecessor, it feels like a world unto itself. A small, dimly lit corridor whose walls contain intriguing bookshelves of countless unfamiliar volumes and large intricate paintings that we, as the visitors, are only allowed to scan briefly before being urged to move on. It's a wondrous album that doesn't demand repeat listens as much as it does romance the listener into them. Charmingly naive and fascinatingly catchy, I dare to say it's even better than To My: Long Lost Love.
It's pressed on gorgeously heavy, 45rpm crimson/purple/magenta/maroon splatter vinyl:
Try shooting an email off to this address if you would like to buy one:
The revelation inside the album's notes is information this time, besides titles. Not only are there lyrics printed on an insert, but actual musician credits. Granted, these might be all pseudonyms, but the one big reveal here is that the album is credited to have been "produced and written" by the handle Tonality*Star.
And now we have something!
The self-titled album by Tonality*Star is a drastic change in direction, musically speaking. The heavier reliance on keyboards and the likeable melodramatic tone on Down at the Roller Rink (exemplified on songs like 'How Lonely') is explored for eleven songs and our narrator's so-far longest endeavor to date. The booming drum machines, programmed MIDI-synths and lush, dreamy atmospheres conjured up here are nothing short of a musician truly finding peace at the end of an emotionally taxing journey. Granted, the songs here are just as yearning, just as lovelorn and just as gorgeously melancholy as before. But there's a sense of finality and inner peace here that is downright redemptive and rewarding as hell. 'I See You' is most representative of either of his two previous albums, while the rest of the album strikes an optimistically revisionary chord like on 'Be Happy With Me.' Throughout the whole thing, I'm reminded very much —in the best possible way, thank you very much— of stuff like the Postal Service, for a more recent example. But truly, the whole thing has a technology-obsessed mission to create lo-fi heartbroken synth-anthems. The best of New Order's deep album cuts, Depeche Mode's Vince Clarke-less second album, and mostly, the Cure's incredible 1982 and '83 b-sides are a very clear inspiration here. 'Over and Over' is such a wonderfully longing piece of modern synth pop. And, let's get this out of the way right now: I'm a guitar fan, plain and simple. And yet, following this story and getting to this album as an evolution, I can't help but feel the pure connection here between listener and creator. Whether it's the surreal 'Dreams and Fantasies' or the Bowie-aping highlight 'Heart and Soul,' everything here feels very much like an author tying up all the loose ends in their blockbuster series. The tunes are perhaps Tonality*Star's best crafted thus far, as even though they are presented in a very much synth-pop revival fashion, there's a sad, but genuine and danceably relateable aspect to them that recalls the best pop music from generations past, without being sentimental.
You can stream or purchase —which I highly recommend— the Tonality*Star album here.
Unarguably strong and heartfelt pop music.
The more I play it, the better it gets.
Not a whole lot you can say that about these days.