As a generation of young artists comes of age in the Spotify era, we’re going to be hearing a lot more bands like Little Star. The new self-titled sophomore album from this Portland group evinces a very modern musical restlessness spawned from the absorption of a few dozen variations on the indie and post-punk milieu and an unwillingness to let one particular strain be the presiding influence over their own work. Dan Byers (vocals/guitar), Julian Morris (vocals/bass), and Sonia Weber (drums) see no compunction in fusing a dreamy Faith-era Cure mood to the spoken word mumblings and agitated yelping of Slint, as they do on “Improv,” or introducing math rock time signatures into the pop jangle of “I Just Wanna Lie.”
With its many musical juxtapositions, Little Star can be a nervy record. And that’s before taking into consideration the added layer of Byers’ distressed lyrics. After using the group’s previous albums to wrestle with romantic entanglements, the young songwriter spends much of this record looking for some kind of internal serenity. “Calming Ritual #1” and “Calming Ritual #2” are expressions of an anxious mind that can turn a simple moment like a car merging in front of him on the highway into self-loathing of being left behind by these strangers who are obviously on to, as he sings in his pinched, quavering alto, “New things and new streets/Better things without me.”
What peace Byers finds is in simple pleasures, like inviting a friend over to watch The Shining (“Sonia”) or reminiscing about a pleasant drive with a friend, with the dog asleep on the backseat (“Blue Horses”). But even those can be undercut by agitation. The lustrous guitar and opaque memories of “Horses” becomes a flustered shuffle over which Byers stresses about never telling his companion his true feelings for her. “I don’t know why/I never told you so,” he repeats as the music gains volume and incident. Like the lifelong labor of anyone with anxiety knows, those tranquil moments are welcome, but always temporary. The next storm waits on the horizon.