The best way to describe the self-titled sophomore record from Portland, Oregon's Little Star is that it sounds a lot like the Cure covering Built to Spill. If that doesn't rub you the wrong way, read on. The band, featuring key members Dan Byers and Julian Morris, don't try too hard to hide their sources of inspiration, but instead work through some familiar tropes to create a cohesive record that ends up being more than just a grab bag of their influences.
Little Star frontman Byers appears to be going through some stuff. Seconds into opening track "Mood," he confesses to trying to "figure out how to feel good without Zoloft." On "Yamaguchi," Byers says "I need a shield to protect me from what I feel." On "Calming Ritual #2," he expresses anxiety about being surrounded by people on the highway who are off to do more interesting and exciting things than he is doing. Clearly, the guy needs a hug.
There is a nice, hazy lo-fi vibe to the record, with a beautiful Johnny Marr-y guitar tone throughout. Thankfully, Little Star brings just enough edge to avoid sounding overly sad sack (see "Yamaguchi" or the outro to "Sonia" where the band demonstrate some needed grit). Again, you can't miss the influences — there is a healthy dose of the Cure's melancholy guitar jangle, and Byers has a voice that echoes the Pacific Northwesterly drawl of Isaac Brock or Doug Martsch — but somehow Little Star transcend this and come up with a record that is entirely their own.
There are a couple of throwaway numbers that bring down the batting average slightly. "Linda Blair" appears to be a song about watching The Exorcist, replete with a dopey chorus of "Regan's head turns all the way around." And if you were giving awards for the most generic indie song title of all time, "Imbue Yourself with Karen" would be a finalist.
But these are minor quibbles. Little Star has enough going on here to forgive a couple of underwhelming mid-album tracks. For fans of melancholy, jangly pop, there is a lot here, and I look forward to seeing where the future takes Little Star. (Good Cheer Records)