The songs on "Black Out the Stars" have traveled quite a ways to get to you. They were birthed in student apartments and rental home attics, recorded in home studios and the studio home of Slim Shady, then sent across a Great Lake to be mastered. Along the way, they were shepherded by Doug Smith, Fabian Halabou and Brian Berryman, three musicians who found a sound but had greater difficulty finding a name; eventually they settled on Sea of Japan. Many more were invited by Halabou to collect under this name, as he had heard parts in his head that only these others could play. They accepted, even if they already had a name (like Blanche, Rescue, The Silent Years, Judah Johnson, Canada, Child Bite, The Word Play or Zoos of Berlin) for which they were better known.
In its final version, the record sounds as if it's come to us not from Detroit, but from Los Angeles. "Black Out the Stars" is the sound of an über-producer trotting out a weekly genre stew showcase at the Largo (while holding a stellar and criminally under-heard solo disc in his back pocket), a melancholy ghost haunting Echo Park and the last staticy gasps of an old-timey dance broadcast from a certain Yankee Hotel somewhere east of the Mississippi.
Smith's breezily accessible songwriting makes wiggle room for the Berryman-Halabou Kitchen Sink Orchestra, highlighting some killer arangements as well as those aforementioned guest spots; dig Halabou and the Clancy brothers crunching into "Enchanted" over psychotic horns and B3 runs, or Dave Feeny laying down some weepy pedal steel on the more understated "Misery."
Sea of Japan really knows how to bring a song home, as you'll find when you're swooning to the vocable harmonies during the codas of "Maxine" and "Left of Center." It's an ingenious device: grab the listener at the end and make 'em start over just so they can get back there again.
released 15 April 2008
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