Booksmart - No Stars Tonight
(2013 Jane Tapes)
"Booksmart displays a heightened sense of musical maturity on No Stars Tonight"
No Stars Tonight, released only four months after Booksmart's last full-length, State Fair, already displays a heightened sense of maturity in Ben Wiley's songwriting, adding many layers to his project's former solo acoustic sound, which could feel a bit one-dimensional at times. Though Wiley takes a full-band approach to the new cassette, released on his own label Jane Tapes, he still adheres to the lo-fi recording quality of his influences, which include Pavement and Sparklehorse. Few songs stretch past two minutes on No Stars Tonight, putting more emphasis on the album as a whole than on certain songs. Though it can feel like a bit of a scattered and uneven effort this time around, I think that's only natural for a lo-fi band with many ideas flowing freely. It's a fun listen and it sounds like it was even more fun to produce.
Opener "Exit Wound" takes on a subdued tone not heard on the mostly upbeat State Fair. The echoing spoken word vocals really seem to channel the same mood explored on the first few LPs put out by The National. "Runaway" is one of the more rock-oriented tracks on the album, a sparse song driven by chugging power chords, building up to a Guided By Voices-esque outro. Rounding out the A-side is "Requiem", a return to Wiley's previous style, featuring some very nice backing vocals in the chorus.
It must be noted that the lyrics on No Stars are exceptionally well-written. When it comes to lo-fi music, especially lo-fi music released in the past decade, they seem to be an afterthought, but they're the forefront of this album. From the Silver Jews reference in "Madison" to the brilliant imagery of "My Marie", there are many verses that could potentially resonate with the listener.
The B-Side forms the most interesting portion of the tape, forming a sort of mini-arc of nearly-instrumental tracks featuring intricately layered electric lead guitar. "Still Life", reminiscent of the intro to the Smashing Pumpkins' "Mayonaise", is one example of such a track, a very nice instrumental with a slight crackle. "Reprise" and "Stitches" continue the experimentation, the former utilizing audio samples in the same way A Grave With No Name does on their 2009 tape Lower, the latter ending in an absolutely brilliant crescendo that just might be my favorite moment of the entire album. For a teenager, or anyone for that matter, Ben Wiley has produced a very impressive piece of music. The cassette version of the album should be released either tonight or tomorrow, so check http://janetapes.bandcamp.com/ for updates. Listen to the album in full below.