“Visionaries like Bon Iver, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, James Blake, and Chance The Rapper spent the better part of the last decade carving out a vacuum where Starlite’s gifts are finally, blissfully, allowed to take up the exact space they’ve always deserved.”
Farewell, Starlite! feels like the album that Francis Farewell Starlite (yes, according to Wikipedia, that’s his name) of Francis And The Lights has been making his whole life. This is partly because his discography, while certainly respectable in its own right, always hinted prophetically at something greater. Songs like “Etc” from Starlite’s last EP were bold steps into a new territory; Farewell is the kingdom he built there. It’s also partly because visionaries like Bon Iver, Kanye West (both of whom appear on the album), Frank Ocean, James Blake, and Chance The Rapper spent the better part of the last decade carving out a vacuum where Starlite’s gifts are finally, blissfully, allowed to take up the exact space they’ve always deserved.
Parts of Farewell feel tiny and beguilingly simple. On the mournful anthem “My City’s Gone,” Starlite sings about street names. “On 43 my heart once beat / on 45 I came alive.” It’s the kind of rhyme children sometimes recite to help them remember something in school and it would be sweet, except the thing he’s trying not to forget is his own life. In “Comeback” he addresses a friend who didn’t come to a party.
“You said you weren’t coming.
We would have come back, man
We would have come back for you.
It turned out to be something quite special–
A really cool party, man, a solid group of people and,
And I wish you could’ve been there.”
It has the quiet, masculine timbre of something too often left unsaid, something that lives just out of reach in a glance across a crowded room, or in a firm handshake that could have been a hug, but wasn’t.
Other parts of the album strain preternaturally out of their own skin. “I Want You To Shake” twitches like a meth head singing a Prince song, like a classic movie playing at 120 frames per second. Every note pops just a little too bright and sharp to quite settle into and it’s impossible to look away. At the climax of “Running Man / Gospel Op1” the confident, controlled hip-hop beat melts rapidly into a warbling, amorphous oil slick of sound, surface tension unable to contain the writhing power forcing it ever outwards.
The leagues of distance between the album’s highs and lows highlight a virtuoso understanding of texture and dynamics, one that often sees Starlite tirelessly sprinting from one end to the other in the space of a single verse. Each voice in every song is painstakingly given its own story to tell and free reign to tell it in unexpected (but never unharmonious) ways.
Starlite produces most of the tracks on Farewell himself, but many also feature writing and production assistance from friend and frequent collaborator Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), as well as notable contributions from Kanye West, Cashmere Cat, ROSTAM, Benny Blanco, and others. And though the delicate whorls of Vernon’s fingerprints in particular are evident throughout, no part of this album rides on the coattails of others.
Starlite deftly synthesizes Kanye’s otherworldly gospel, the auto-tuned a cappella of James Blake, and an avant-garde RnB that holds its own alongside Frank Ocean’s Blonde, but perhaps the album’s greatest brilliance is the injection of Starlite’s own fearless and absolutely pitch perfect art-pop sensibility. He’s the rare breed of producer that, like 20/20 era JT, makes everything he touches both more accessible and smarter. On songs like “May I Have This Dance” and “Friends,” the alchemy is so natural that it feels, if not obvious, then at least inevitable.
It’s been a year of magnificently produced albums, but Farewell, Starlite! stands out as the only one that delivered a sound I wasn’t even aware I had been holding my breath for. It’s hard to imagine a moment more musically primed for this record – or an artist who could have used that moment more wisely.