A Heart & Two Stars
, for one, am certainly not opposed to musicians moving on. To expect an artist who once worked in a particular idiom to stick with it forever seems especially ridiculous: we as listeners have catholic tastes, so why would the musicians we listen to not feel the same way? And why, then, not let them create in more than one genre?
Luke Sutherland’s first band, Long Fin Killie, were themselves not restricted to one particular genre (unless we expand ‘rock’ sufficiently far enough that the distinction becomes meaningless), and although his Bows project is mostly compared to drum and bass or trip hop, Music A.M. is certainly a departure, mainly for the way is harkens back to the chilly yet warm minimalism of Bjork’s Vespertine on almost every song.
Sutherland, also an author and the violinist who plays with Mogwai, here works with two German musicians, and while his past work has had songs that were more or less laid back, dreamy, and so on, all of A Heart & Two Stars is subdued to the point of sleep. Acoustic guitar and bass blend with fairly standard electronic backing, and neither performance nor production is particularly distinguished (although they aren’t particularly bad, either).
Some songs, in particular the opening ‘Blackflash’, benefit from the restrained nature of the music. But ‘Blackflash’ is compelling because of Sutherland’s breathless monologue, concerning the titular sideshow villain and his estranged father. It veers from slightly comical to heart wrenching, and remains riveting throughout. Around half of the tracks here, though, are instrumentals. They are unfailingly pleasant, but little more than that.
There are other bright spots: ‘Ecstacy’ is a catchy tale of transvestism (“all this homeboy wants is to be a girl”), which seems to be a recurring theme for this album, and here it’s aided by an actual tune (which, as I’ve said before, isn’t necessary for good music, but here there’s nothing to replace it with). ‘Air Miami’ is a soporific transcontinental drag, the lyrics being nothing but a list of cities. There is the odd other moment of sparkle here, but not much.
I’m the last person to begrudge Sutherland the right to explore new avenues, or even to back off and take a low key approach to his music for a while. But as A Heart & Two Stars clocks in at just under 38 minutes, the amount of worthwhile content here is almost insulting.