Black Hearted Brother - Stars Are Our Home (Sonic Cathedral)

Indie alumni create sparkling space rock/shoegazing opus

Released Oct 21st, 2013 via Sonic Cathedral / By Richard Lewis
Black Hearted Brother - Stars Are Our Home (Sonic Cathedral) June 1969, Hyde Park, the debut performance of Blind Faith. The first ever supergroup, a band so ego-unwieldy they only managed one LP and a tour before disintegrating.

Yep, supergroups have the unwelcoming ring of indulgence, I’m-gonna-get-my-own-way-here and short term-ism. While a few notable examples prevail and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are pretty much the exception that proves the rule, as Mick Jagger’s wretched new outfit SuperHeavy unwittingly confirmed the term and the practice is one best avoided.

The fantastically monikered Black Hearted Brother understandably want to avoid any such associations, given that their membership is made up of indie rock big wheels and Stars Are Our Home is their first LP. As becomes immediately apparent however, any such worries of are quickly dispelled once the album reaches the turntable.

Signed to estimable home of nu-shoegazing Sonic Cathedral, the band's provenance is outstanding with Slowdive/Mojave 3 main man Neil Halstead, Mark Van Hoen of overlooked nineties indie contenders Seefeel and Coley Park/Holton's Opulent Oog alumnus Nick Holton are the brethren in question. Long acquainted through production work and record label connections, the simpatico between the three musicians is apparent, as the vintage synths, antique drum machine and live drums combine to create sparkling analogue-powered space rock.

The LP title proves to be spot on, the music setting a course for the interstellar, while lyrically the tracks stay tethered to earth imbued with a gentle melancholy in keeping with Neil Halstead’s solo work. Despite the focus on sprawling grooves, the three-piece successfully compress the tracks down into more bite-size missives the result landing somewhere near 2001: A Space Odyssey – The Abridged Version.

Shooting for something that swerves away from the tightly constructed for something ‘unedited’ the trio light on a sound that revels in being organic and imbued with a live feel, ‘(I Don’t Mean to) Wonder’ especially possessing the raggedness and immediacy of being eyeball to eyeball in the band’s rehearsal room.

Audaciously beginning with the lengthy instrumental trawl of the title track, proof of the territory the band are capable of covering is showcased in ‘This is How it Feels’ third, evoking prime era Mercury Rev in its falsetto vocals and baroque feel before fading out amidst twinkling Casiotone keys. ‘Got Your Love’ meanwhile could soundtrack a long-lost eighties sci-fi classic, ushered in by luxuriant Vangelis synths, underscored by handclaps and classic Slowdive guitar clatter bubbling beneath the surface, which despite its seven minute running length the track is the nearest thing to an all-out pop song here.

‘If I Was Here To Change Your Mind' is vastly different, a slow almost funeral paced lament, which comes closest to Neil Halstead’s 2012 solo LP Palindrome Hunches while ‘UFO’ has the same seething energy as Violent Femmes, founded on a low-key acoustic motif and skittering drums before transmuting into a piece that vaguely evokes the C86 scene.

A mid-album lull occurs with two slightly inconsequential pieces, the incantatory trudge ‘Time In the Machine’ which while pleasant never quite coalesces and the Vox Continental and phased vocals led ‘Oh Crust’ which might have best been left on the cutting room floor.

Marking the high point of the LP ‘Take Heart’ harks back to dream pop pioneers of A.R. Kane and The Beloved, a lush, mid-paced, synth driven gem that slowly insinuates its way into the brain. Continuing the upward curve the pulsating ‘My Baby Just Sailed Away’, a title seemingly cribbed from the Motown back catalogue, utilises analogue synths and industrial guitar squalls to carve out a gem redolent of early 1990s-era Depeche Mode. Following this the drifting ambience of Air-evoking penultimate track ‘I’m Back’ and succinct twee-pop kiss-off ‘Look Out Here They Come’ sweetly draws proceedings to a close.

A resounding success for the Brotherhood first time out and in view of the album title, destination achieved.