Once upon a time, there was a little orchestral pop band from Oklahoma. No, I'm not talking about The Flaming Lips. Seriously, folks--the Sooner state has birthed many great bands other than them thar Lips. Bands like, um...Color Me Badd? OK, point withdrawn. When it comes to the sounds of the Okies, the Lips have been the only game in town. So the Starlight Mints were probably an economic inevitability: Supply racing as usual to keep up with demand, the Mints burst on the scene in 2000 with the unavoidably Lips-esque The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of
. Traversing the same dreamscapes the Lips had taken years to map out, The Dream
's warped folk-pop blossomed string crescendos and acid-trip synths, while front man Allan Vest sang in a nasal whine pitched somewhere midwest of Wayne Coyne's. Sure, The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of
was a good album, but it was all too easy to write off Starlight Mints as Lips-lite.
Wisely then, Built on Squares, Starlight Mints' recently released sophomore album, wanders into terra more incognita. A little funkier, a little tougher and a little slicker than its predecessor, Squares better highlights Vest's talent for synapse-seizing vocal hooks. Likewise--and yet paradoxically--the new album's more eclectic arrangements serve to tighten the band's songs into super-efficient pop delivery systems. Who knew that Casiotone keyboards, pedal steel and mariachi trumpets could put the power in the pop? It's a trick Starlight Mints have figured out for themselves--and live, they play with the joyful swagger of a band that's earned its own sound.