Albums you should listen to: Are We Dead Yet? by Starlight Drive

Jared Featherstone is developing a long history as a musical artist, first as a member of D.C. indie darlings Washington Social Club, and more recently as leader of Starlight Drive, a project he pursues when he can spare time from his “day job” as writing center coordinator at James Madison University. The Starlight Drive project has yielded two albums: 2005’s Beautiful Accidents and this 2011 release, Are We Dead Yet?

Featherstone’s approach on this album is darker than either his work with Washington Social Circle or on Beautiful Accidents. The material explores the problems of relationships – romantic, social, and professional – from an existential position somewhere slightly bleaker than Sartre’s. The album opener, “Kept Awake by Trains,” is a droning paean to lost love: “Now I’ll have to wait to see my love/Only exhaustion, wine, or death can bring me back to her….”  The album closer, another down tempo meditation, “Are We Dead Yet?”  explores the restlessness and claustrophobia that enters even the best long term relationships: “You always slept with your face close to mine so I couldn’t breathe or hide…the night breeze comforts me in the restless streets where no one sleeps at night because that would be too much like death….”

In between there are moments of light such as “Keepsake” with its optimism in the face of past failure: “You are nothing and I am nothing , but I want to see you again…,”  moments of cynicism as in “Disbelief”: “People would love to think that they know what they mean when they say ‘I love you…,'” and moments when love’s loss, as in “Familiar Aches,” must be addressed: “Oh, this beautiful emptying/Oh, this lovely void/ Oh, these familiar aches/Goodbye….”

The album is distant and intimate all at once, a difficult feat to perform but one that Starlight Drive handles well. The instrumentation lends to this by relying heavily on acoustic guitar and synthesizer strings. Featherstone’s voice has a limited range (think George Harrison with hints of Leonard Cohen) but he manages it well and his lyrics are superb. One is drawn into his songs both by the power of their lyrics and by Featherstone’s ability to convey both a world weariness and a sense of needful hope as the material requires.

There are elements of Are We Dead Yet? that will appeal to fans of Shoegazer and even to those who have a taste for Emo. Though Featherstone might not like this sort of recommendation, it broadens his appeal and, I hope, gets him more listeners – and fans….

(NOTE: Featherstone will appear in a solo acoustic show on a bill with Henry Wolfe tonight at The Mockingbird Roots Music Hall in Staunton, VA, tonight. Show starts at 8:30….)