Why is the Midwest considered the bastion of normalcy? Think about it -- all that exposure to Bible Belters and the so-called moral majority is bound to warp anyone's mind. Not only is America's heartland a favorite breeding ground for serial killers, but creative types bloom there, too. Weirdos born and bred in the middle of the country include the Flaming Lips, Brainiac, Rick Nielsen; even diverse weirdos like Andy Prieboy and Axl Rose -- both Midwestern transplants. And now, from Norman, Oklahoma, comes an odd little pop group called the Starlight Mints.
Although the band started off as a seven-piece mini-orchestra -- violin and cello included -- it's narrowed the lineup to a rock quintet. Both incarnations are represented on its debut disc, The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of, and no matter the arrangement, these songs are driven by the magic guitar of singer-songwriter Allan Vest. Whether he's strumming out a cool '60s guitar tone, copping a spaghetti Western vibe, or just bending his whammy bar, Vest creates a foundation for something unique. His instrument clearly reflects his vision, which is eclectic and decidedly left of center.
But Vest isn't the only musician who matters in the Starlight Mints (he's not even the only guitarist). The string section, which plays on more than half of these tunes, hints at classical influences -- note the baroque intro on the opener "Submarine #3." Keyboardist Andy Nuñez also does a fair harpsichord imitation on "The Bandit." Still, The Dream is far more than just the musical meanderings of overeducated eggheads -- it's a playful pastiche of noise that never takes itself seriously. An especially clever track is the wittily named "Sir Prize," with its gypsy violin segueing into a slinky, hootchie-cooch rhythm.
The group vamps the '60s just as soundly on the bouncy, British Invasion-style "Sugar Blaster." In fact, the Starlight Mints seem to have a fetish for the decade that bred the Beatles and Carnaby Street fashions -- they present it every which way, tossing it up with modern alt-rock on "The Twilight Showdown" and throwing some Farfisa-like organ into the mix on "Valerie Flames." The result is an amusing blend of sophistication and simplicity. The Starlight Mints are eccentric, to be sure, but they've also laid down a solid foundation. Fun this is, fluffy it ain't.
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