The Starlight Mints: “Brass Digger”
The Starlight Mints took a risk naming themselves as they did, selecting a name that conjures up both a light after-dinner refresher and the Starland Vocal Band, the awful ’70s group responsible for that lightest of pop ditties, “Afternoon Delight.” Then again, maybe that particular connection doesn’t really get brought to mind for everyone…just those of us who have a few too many pop music factoids swimming around in our brain. Not that I’m one of those.
Thankfully, they overcome the light-as-air connotations of their name not so much via their song melodies, which actually are frequently fun and catchy, if not particularly “light,” but rather by the vocals of singer Allan Vest, which always tend to sound just off-kilter enough to lend the songs a slightly bent feel. To me, his voice is a dead ringer for Avram Gleitsman, a friend of mine who once led ’90s Boston band The Barnies, who never got as far as they deserved and who you’ll have a heck of a time trying to track down any CDs of theirs these days. So that’s not really a helpful comparison. The writeup on AllMusic likens his voice to a cross between Black Francis (or Frank Black, as he’s known these days) of the Pixies, and Gordon Gano, of the Violent Femmes — a fairly apt approximation. And given the fact that both Black and Gano are among rock’s more loony characters, it certainly conveys the idea that the Starlight Mints on the whole are a cross between candy and crazy.
Among my favorite songs by the Starlight Mints is “Brass Digger,” from their excellent 2003 album, Built on Squares. It starts out with a little spaghetti-westernish guitar and well-utilized trumpet intro and then kicks in with some strummy acoustic guitar. The syncopated rhythm, Vest’s just-off-the-melody vocals, and the addition of wheezy harmonica to the mix create a fascinating sound. The Starlight Mints are great at bringing together unusual combinations of instruments to create a sound that isn’t quite like any other band, and Built on Squares is a great place to start exploring further if you like “Brass Digger.”