Having now released four albums in just two years, Brion Starr is exploding onto the retro indie scene in a way that few artists have in recent memory. This multi-instrumentalist New York artist is unabashedly throwback, and apparently wants to be the next David Bowie. More surprisingly, he's pulling it off in his latest album A Night To Remember.
His earlier albums caught a few ears due to his modern take on sounds from the 60s-70s, but tended to be a bit disjointed. Most of these problems have been ironed out, presumably thanks in large part to the addition of legendary producer Tony Visconti - most famous, of course, for producing the majority of Bowie's albums.
The result is a stunning mix of 70s glam, 80s New Wave and post-punk, with a sprinkling of modern production, electronics, and effects. A Night To Remember is a light concept album, based loosely around the idea of an all-night party/pub crawl across a vaguely futuristic New York cyberscape.
The album kicks off with Morning Light, which is also the first single. A sleazy 70s porn groove backed by strident electronically-enhanced squealing guitars sets a stage which is familiar, but also alien. The lyrics are fairly standard dance music fare: "We're going to move all night / We're gonna dance all nice / Until we feel all right / Into the morning light!" but what sets them apart is the delivery. Starr's voice is commanding, almost authoritarian, like Roger Waters on a good day.
That sleazy-yet-compelling feel continues through most of the tracks on the album. The Butler follows a pusher through his rounds in the night, feeding the needs of party-goers. Private Eye invokes a feeling of paranoia - are we being followed? Quasi-orchestral stings invoke older private eye shows and movies, while a wailing Theremin-like instrument continues to distort the soundscape into a slightly alien place.
Every track brings in its own characters, often unsavory figures. Does the album approve or disapprove? It's hard to tell. Like a 70s NYC street film, it often seems to simply document the residents of this neon-lit electronic cityscape.
Starr's own voice has surprising utility, despite him having a somewhat limited vocal range. In earlier albums, especially his debut (2019's Global Identity), it seemed like he hadn't quite figured out how to make best use of his distinctive style. Here, it fits in perfectly. He can sound lyrical, as in the title track A Night to Remember, commanding like Thin White Duke-era Bowie, or even downright creepy. The layered discordant chanting in 21st Century Limited sounds like one of Nick Wright's contributions to early Pink Floyd.
As the 'night' winds on and moves towards morning, the oppressive atmosphere begins to lift. Nocturnal brings in surprisingly bright synth arpeggios, giving it a very retrowave/outrun feel - probably intended to invoke a late-night car ride. A Night To Remember (a sure-fire pick for a future single) moves to a more accessible melodic feel, with empowering lyrics about overcoming fears. Same Flame, appropriately enough, gives a sense of sunrise and of post-party clarity.
If there is anything to criticize about this album, it's only that the midsection becomes just a bit repetitive, and the oppressive vibe can become a little heavy-handed. But even that seems to fit with the theme, of being absolutely blitzed at 4AM and only barely hanging on.
This could easily be the album that pushes Brion Starr into mainstream visibility. It's remarkably self-assured, elevated by the nearly flawless production from Visconti. It's a must-hear for fans of retro 70s and 80s acts, as well as anyone looking for a fresh sound.