Though it is of course better to buy albums, listening to them on SoundCloud has a side benefit: you can see the shapes of songs. Those sound wave bars give a sense of the music even before you press play—sometimes escalating like stairs as a songs builds, other times rising and falling in sonic peaks and valleys or moving flatly along at a booming roar or sparse whisper.
The sound wave bars of Portland, Oregon-based Little Star’s new album, Being Close, do a little bit of everything. Led by Daniel Byers, with bassist and singer-songwriter Julian Morris and drummer John Value, the band tightly weaves its way through pounding aggression and gentle intimacy, sometimes restrained and soft, other times unleashing far more than seems possible for a mere indie-rock trio. On “New Tv,” for example, the music shifts from some of the quietest on the album to its most combative, setting off a dissonant explosion during the line “I rely on things like my new tv with its flat screen / To pull me through the winter a little faster” (amen). Later, Byers musters an otherwise hidden store of vitriol for a yell at the 1:50 mark before the bars swell and then settle down again.
The band’s third release—after two albums in 2015—Being Close’s theme favors the softer moments, though, and aside from the yells on “New Tv,” the singer mostly stays in an intimate register. Delicate with a controlled sense of lethargy, Byers’ voice has the ability to make the simplest lyrics feel poignant. In “Ian,” a reflection on a past relationship, he sings, “I’ve been living in the house we used to live in / And I’ve been driving in the van we used to drive in,” a chorus that might sound trite in a different voice on a different song, but here sounds effortless and raw. With the added effects of subtle harmonies, Byers occasionally nears the delicacy of Sparklehorse (though without the heaviness and degree of despair).
In the couple moments that Byers’ voice loses that gentleness (or perhaps substitutes out for another singer), the songs stray a bit, missing the subtlety that elsewhere allows Little Star’s earnestness to avoid cheesiness. On “Voice,” for example, the words “I could die for want of affection,” sung in pretty and strong yet whiny vocals, sound a bit overblown, but the bleak repetitions of “I need your attention” on “Attention,” relayed in subdued, doubled octaves, somehow remain natural. The final song, “Hungry Ghost,” which reflects on inherited truths, is similarly a little heavy-handed.
For the majority of the album, though, Little Star laments lack of affection, opens up about insecurities, and even sarcastically insults someone’s love of finance (“You didn’t sell out, you just bought in”) with the competence of those lucky and skilled musicians and writers who tend gain a real following. Discovering all of the features that comprise those shifting peaks and valleys of visual sound waves—guitar accents that range from overdrive indie to the romantic Cure, surprising time signatures, a mastery of vocal restraint—is a real pleasure.
You can pre-order Being Close here.