Release Date: Oct 22, 2013
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Dream Pop, Shoegaze
Stars Are Our Home by Black Hearted Brother is an album of flowing, interlinked sonic beauty that owes much to the long term relationships held between the band members. Out of the three, Neil Halstead will be the most familiar name to many due to his successful recent solo career and distinguished past, but the contributions of Mark Von Hoen and Nick Holton are equally significant. There’s been a fair amount of collaboration and crossing of paths over the years – Holton, of Holton’s Opulent Oog and Coley Park, produced Halstead’s excellent Palindrome Hunches album from last year, whilst Von Hoen has appeared on earlier Halstead solo albums (as well as taking on co-production duties on various Mojave 3 albums).
Q: What do you get if you lock a member each from Slowdive, Seefeel and Holton's Opulent Oog in a room for an indefinite period of time?A: One of 2013's most ambitiously daring, experimentally sprawling collection of music. Comprising Neil Halstead (Slowdive, Mojave 3), Mark Van Hoen (Seefeel, Locust) and Nick Holton (Holton's Opulent Oog, Coley Park), Black Hearted Brother represents a collaboration of sorts - supergroup even - that probably isn't quite sure how it ended up here in the first place. Born from years of writing, recording, deliberating, re-recording, remixing and then no doubt starting all over again from scratch, Stars are Our Home is a deftly orchestrated album that bypasses all generic templates for a colossal smorgasbord of diversity.
This trio features former Slowdive and Mojave 3 member Neil Halstead, a one-time member of psychedelic country band Coley Park called Nick Holton and Seefeel’s Mark Van Hoen. With Slowdive’s break-up in the mid-’90s and Halstead’s subsequent transition from shoegaze pioneer to alt.country crooner, there’s been a hope that he’d one day return to his dream-pop roots. ‘Stars Are Our Home’ isn’t that, but there are shades of his past on the twinkling, self-titled opening track and ‘(I Don’t Mean To) Wonder’, which are layered with reverb-drenched vocals buried deep in the mix.
When it was first announced that Neil Halstead was going to be making a record that had a heavy shoegaze/noise element, it was fair for people to expect the second coming of Slowdive. After all, they were one of the guiding lights of that scene and one of the few bands not to reunite, despite the desires of their always-growing fan base. However, when Black Hearted Brother's debut album Stars Are Our Home hit the shelves in late 2013, it was clear that while the project did display a few elements of the classic Slowdive sound, it was informed just as much by the music Halstead has made since that band's breakup (both with Mojave 3 and as a solo act), and by the input of the other two members of the group, electronic wizard Mark Van Hoen (Seefeel, Locust) and Nick Holton (Holton's Opulent Oog, Coley Park).
Although it’s plain to see that this is a side project for Neil Halstead, a likely one-off release with friends Nick Holton (of the band Coley Park) and Mark Van Hoen (of Locust), it’s hard to not be a little taken aback. After all, the past two decades have witnessed Halstead blossom into a fine folk songwriter, shifting from Slowdive to Mojave 3 to his past two solo albums with their eerie echoes of Nick Drake. As his craft developed, the shoegaze sheen of his early work was stripped away, revealing the structure of the songs underneath.
When news struck that Neil Halstead (Slowdive, Mojave 3) formed a band with Mark Van Hoen (formerly of Seefeel), the Internet shook with hopes that the two would be gazing down at their shoes just like the good old days. Along with Coley Park's Nick Holton, the super-group of sorts composed a record mostly through email in 2011. All three of them would begin a song and then pass it along, using a loose, unedited system.
There’s something about “Blue Skied an’ Clear,” perhaps the best tune Black Hearted Brother’s Neil Halstead has been a part of, that never loses its pull. Not even the merciless rotten vibes of The Doom Generation, which featured the track, could take away from its delicately transportive force. It’s strange how the song eclipses even the best songs from Souvlaki and Just For A Day.
One of the greatest rock n roll soundbites of all time was of course from Richie “Manic” Edwards. Back in 1991, with the Manic Street Preachers’ stock rising, he twisted the knife into shoegazers Slowdive by declaring he’d always hate them “more than Hitler”. At the time this was incredibly galvanising, the transparency of the quote becoming evident pretty soon after, it’s an action akin to kicking a puppy with a steel toe capped boot – and judging by their own material since 2001’s Know Your Enemy, the Manics seem content with deleting any memories of their long gone vitality.
There isn’t any way I can write about Black Hearted Brother without mentioning Slowdive. Neil Halstead was the prime mover in the various Slowdive line ups and Stars Are Our Home is a quite definite continuation of what Slowdive set out to achieve. And if Just For A Day and Souvlaki received less than glowing receptions from the music press of the 1990s, Halstead and his assorted bandmates must feel somehow vindicated at the legacy of a band now revered as one of the most influential Shoegaze groups of the late 80s/early 90s.
The news that Rachel Goswell is to join Neil Halstead on stage as one of the “very special guests” for his two solo gigs at Cecil Sharp House at the end of the month has been greeted by the majority of press and fans as the long-awaited Slowdive reunion. Which is to completely ignore the fact that the duo remained together long after the break-up of the archetypal shoegazers, making five albums of gorgeous countrified folk as Mojave 3 over the course of 11 years – more than twice the shelf-life of Thames Valley’s finest. It's understandable that people would get excited about Halstead and Goswell sharing a stage again – it’s been ten years since that last happened and we are all suckers for a bit of nostalgia these days.
Slowdive fans rejoice when they heard that the band’s leader, Neil Halstead was cooking up a new record more in that vein with two other like-minded souls, Seefeel’s Mark Van Hoen and Coley Park’s Nick Holton. That U.K. band were leaders of the shoegaze movement and since they never reformed (and toured over here very little) the fans had been dreaming, hoping for something.