Bryndon Cook as Starchild & The New Romantic pulls from an array of influences from the worlds of pop, R&B, and funk. Language is the first Starchild album since 2016’s Crucial and is almost twice as long to boot. This means there is more time spent with Cook and his influences, but it also means that those influences are given more time and space to take up, which they do to sometimes distracting effect. There is a lot going on in Language musically, and although the effect of hearing a fresh voice cushioned amongst a blend of appealing instrumentation and experimentation is often refreshing and revitalizing, the amount of experimentation can often overwhelm the comparatively simple, straightforward themes and message of each song.
For instance, the opening track “Language,” is immediately appealing. The song paints a picture of a relationship with two partners unable to really understand each other’s “language,” but it is still danceable, funky, sleek and emotionally honest. As the song goes on, the layers of music, effects, background vocals, and Cook’s vocals blend together at about equal levels so that they push up against each other for most of the song, creating a general musical wall you feel as if you are knocking up against repeatedly.
The second track is a cover, of “Mood” released by the band Porches in 2016. It’s a solid cover, adding a spoken word intro and more overt emotion, compared to the relatively resigned performance of the original track. The layered effect of most of the Starchild songs makes sense here, as the original was fairly sonically dense as well, but Cook uses his musical intensity here to increase the passion of the song while maintaining an original seed of the track—the effect does not merely overwhelm you, and it does build to a height rather than reach it and maintain it for the next two minutes.
In general, the length of the album—14 tracks—is a bit of a detriment to the general experience. The second half of the album, in particular, begins to blend together with a general similarity of dense, layered music present throughout the rest of the album. However, the two longest tracks are two of the best on the album. “Black Diamond” and “Can I Come Over?” are both five minutes and change, but put the time to good use by injecting fresh sounds into the album as well as constructing a well-paced arc for each song. “Black Diamond” begins with funky and energetic horns and builds out into a frenzy appropriate for the “insanity” the singer declares that this person is driving him towards. “Can I Come Over?” has a strong rhythm from the start, and some interesting experimental warps and electronic touches that grab your attention easily and are used sparingly afterward. Cook’s vocals range from high and clear here, to warm and sultry, creating a sonic parallel to the singer’s mix of hopeful, anxious and romantic emotions towards the recipient of his question.
The album receives a last burst of energy in “Lost Boys,” one of the more immediately pop-wonderful songs on the album. The last song, “Hand to God” doesn’t leave you in general with much of a memory, but the last few moments employ an intriguing, slightly magical, tinkling bell effect that gives you the sensation of floating out of a dream or reverie.
Language is a little over-stuffed for its own good, but what it does is always done with the intent of creating a unique, personal sound. I appreciate the new energy and personal perspective apparent in Cook’s new Starchild output, but perhaps if a few layers were sloughed off, the beating heart underneath the sonic explosions would be audible and overall more effective.