Three albums into their career, I think it’s safe to say the members of Starlight Mints have a lot in common with Ryan Duffy’s Aunt Becky. Their band’s sound works in their favor, and they’ve always had the potential to lead pop music in a new direction by making dramatic quirks sound sweet to even the most humorless indie-pop lovers. But every three years they seem to release an album that’s really not much different from its predecessor. It’s almost as if they’re thinking, Goddamn it, we’re not going to change a thing until we’re more successful.
So they wait. And nothing happens. Finally, along rolls 2006, when ideas such as “retro” and “more is more” are essentially carrying pop music. And the members of Starlight Mints hope this’ll be the album that’ll get their band’s name dropped along with all those new bands that got their timing right. Did they do anything wrong in the first place? Should they attempt to evolve? Where did Aunt Becky get that nifty sweater?
Between the Starlight Mints and fellow natives the Flaming Lips, any outsider might expect that their mutual hometown of Norman, Oklahoma is the cutest city in the world. We’re not going to get into the relationship between the Flaming Lips and furry suits, but in the case of Starlight Mints, we’ve got all sorts of bubbly keyboard and string arrangements to work with; whistled tunes and tempo changes; lazy male vocals over sweet female harmonization (that’s Allan Vest over keyboardist Marian Love Nunez, if you’re wondering). This band, even if written up like most other bands to garner indie love in the last year or two, sounds like no one else and hasn’t since it began.
So what exactly have the band members changed since 2003’s Built on Squares? There’s no black cat with “boomerangs between her toes”; no song that sounds like an animated xylophone (“Buena Vista”); no standout dreamy track (“Pages”). Hell, on paper, Drowaton sounds like a throwback to Starlight Mints’ more “straightforward” pop debut, The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of (2000). But if anything, there’s not much to throw back to — the Mints have always incorporated guitar- and keyboard-driven pop into their youthful melodies (ponder that one), so there’s always been a huge foundation to continue working with, and that’s exactly what’s done on Drowaton. They’ve got guest musicians to fill in every possible gap with cello, violin, trumpet, trombone and piano, so there’s not the smallest crevice of wasted space here. At the same time, lines are written to sound intentionally sneaky, perky, young — whatever mood hits. So nothing sounds empty, nothing sounds cluttered. It’s a perfect compromise. Starlight Mints is quite possibly the perfect pop band and, with any luck, a few people will pick up on its music before the members eventually attempt to mature.