There’s a fine line between being inspired, influenced, and ripping another artist off. When I first heard the album “Midwave” by Oklahoma-based rockers Starscheme, I thought to myself that this is a record that reminds me of a band that I like, and some bands I’ve heard before….but there was no defining moment that attributes this album’s sound to another band’s style or musical fingerprint. It’s safe to say these guys ingested the influences around them and blended some bits and pieces of the music scene they grew up surrounded by, all while creating a characteristic and unique style for themselves. Let’s check out what makes “Midwave” what it is.
The opening track, Act Like I, has a strong bassline for a backbone. The song’s bassline and percussion with the dark tone of the lead guitar will remind you of David Gilmour to some extent but (and don’t ask me how) you will also be reminded of Radiohead. That dark and dramatic dungeon-rock atmosphere is an element some rock fans look for specifically, and some others just enjoy it if they stumble upon it. But I must say that this opening track made me excited and anticipating more of these dark elements. In a similar sense, the second track “Shining Shore” feels inspired by a lot of classic rock. On this track, the keyboards and vocals shine a lot more than on the first track and feel more spacey due to the slower tempo and the longer duration of the track. I found it super smooth how verses are sung softly before we transition to the chorus which shows a higher and brighter tone with backing vocal harmonies – it will surely send shivers down your spine. The bridge takes that arrangement to a whole new level as the vocals are sung in a higher heady mix with a soft and breathy tone before one last chorus and a beautiful outro end the track. Minimoon begins with an electronic and somewhat industrial beat and the guitars feel a lot more modern and 2000s-inspired. The song maintains that futuristic and electronic feeling throughout its duration while still keeping that raw feeling of musicians jamming and playing with each other. These guys know how to balance substance and style when they’re experimenting with gimmicks like these. The song has an instrumental section that’s basically a battle between solos that speaks volumes about the mastery these musicians have, and the years of expertise and knowledge behind them. The instrumental outro of this song was super-playful and once again, futuristic. It will haunt you for days after your first listen of the record.
Push Your Luck was another standout track and a highly memorable number for me. The band keep their progressive and complex nature but somehow add catchiness and accessibility to it. Stylistically speaking, this track is very reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys in their TBHAC era, but the way the keyboards and vocals are arranged keeps everything within the realm of that Starscheme personality. Fine Fear is a very 80s synth-pop/dance-pop track because of the progression of the keys. There’s also a very interesting drum lick at the start of the chorus that music and percussion nerds will appreciate. These guys weren’t exaggerating when they deemed themselves a “musician’s band”. Lost At Sea brings back more proggy guitars and effects on vocals that have a preexisting amount of twang and nasality to make the vocal lines very modern-sounding and catchy. More interesting and unorthodox drum patterns and a groovy bassline keep the track spicy and un-boring for listeners who are on the lookout for complex writing. Do The Math is a relatively short track with odd time signatures, clear and clean-toned vocals, and very emotional guitars. I love how the bass sounds thumpy and very prominent in this mix too – the whole production is stellar, to be honest. The keyboard riff that loops during this song is another one of those memorable melodies that stayed in my head after I finished the album.
A turning point for me was the track “Pick Me Up Put Me Down” which had a very bluesy and melodic atmosphere to it. It’s not like those elements haven’t appeared on the album before, but it’s actually a crystal clear ode to classic rock times here with the long belted chest notes and the clean guitar melodies. There is nothing not to love about this track and how it instantly transports you to the 70s with its sound. Moreover, the solo sent shivers down my spine and made me repeat it twice to try and get those emotions once again. Keep Up begins with some heavy chords that are palm-muted to sound raw and they are shortly joined by the bass and an epic organ that the music geek inside me couldn’t stop from smiling ear to ear when I heard. The drum lines of the verses and the chorus beautifully alternate with one another to give the track more prog rock and technical vibes. The song’s only problem for me was that it ends. Major Paulish has these cool piano riffs that usually art rock and prog rock are known for, but it has a very direct arrangement and smooth transitions between the verses and chorus, making it a very dense yet accessible song with a little something for everyone packed in its details. The effects they toy around with during the solo section were so beautiful and they made me dance and bop my head along to that whole mid-section. I’m really curious to see how they would perform this track at a live show.
The album’s longest track, Light Speed Desperado, is something that has a lot to digest. It should be taken by other bands as an exemplary model of how to write good songs. The keys are utilised to accentuate the horror and danger element of the lyrics during the chorus. The verses have vocal layering that’s so well done you will be craving for more once you’re done with the track, and the drums are delicious (to say the least). The way every instrument complements the other without taking too much space is just otherworldly. The break section in the middle of the song with the ambient sounds playing over the piano paints a mental image of the track’s titular character/entity and it made me feel like the track needs a music video of equally epic calibre because of this mental image. That section doesn’t overstay its welcome in any way, as marching drums and super-charged guitars buildup into an epic outro that’s a headbanging fest. If you thought heaviness needs down tuning, speed, or more distortion, then think again, because these guys made a synth riff sound heavier than most of the heavy metal I listen to nowadays.
The album closes with Act Like II, which is a beautiful sequel to the opener with more charming vocals and dark guitar melodies. The vocal lines here made me feel like the ending of an epic ghost story because of how they reprised many moments from before. All in all, this is a record where you won’t be able to skip songs or listen to them in a different order than that of the tracklist. I wouldn’t be exaggerating If I said that everything is in perfect place in this record and every single moment has a purpose in the emotions and stimuli that it induces insits listeners.