Big Blue Marble | Stars In Suburbia (self-released)

RIYL: New Pornographers, Fruit Bats

There is a place in the PLAYBACK:stl offices where CDs go to die lonely and unreviewed. Each month, we toss into a U.S. Postal Service container (or wherever there's space, really) the works of dozens of half-baked ska projects, Casio-mangling solo artists, and splatter house death metal bands. We'd like to give them all a review, really, if there were only enough time and manpower to devote to them. The case of Big Blue Marble's Stars in Suburbia, however, serves as a reminder to us that even deserving albums can slip through the cracks and miss their shot at the spotlight.

It's easy to see how this unassuming and rather straightforward collection of pop rock ditties could go overlooked. The first four tracks of the album, however, make a strong argument for principal songwriter Dave Fera's talents as an arranger. Opener "Honkey Prayer" builds a sense of high drama as guitars and strings mesh and do battle on the instrumental breaks. "Steve in the 70s" features one of those staggering, wordless choruses that grow more epic and urgent with each repetition. "Swingin from a Rope" takes off with an organ-fueled bridge into overdrive. Lesser pop songwriters often settle into comfortable yet stifling predictability in order to attract as many listeners as possible. But at their best, Fera and his pals exemplify that pop's greatest strength is its potential to surprise with unexpected detours into new melodic terrain.

Unfortunately, some of the album's later tracks fall into the aforementioned pitfall of charting the obvious course. The band loses its charisma on the slower tracks, and most of the lyrics remain standard pop junk. Still, on the strength of its standout moments, Stars in Suburbia warrants some recognition, and not a shallow grave in our USPS receptacle of shattered dreams. | Jeremy Goldmeier

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