Stellar Hoax, the first full-length album from Borrowed Beams of Light, is loosely based on the Voynich Manuscript, a mysterious 15th century text that has yet to be deciphered. Don’t worry, though—this record isn’t esoteric or contrived. It’s a glistening and catchy collection of tunes that have arrived just in time to serve as a refreshing and nimble soundtrack for the muggy summer heat.
Borrowed Beams of Light (
Funded with money that the band raised through a Kickstarter.com campaign, Stellar Hoax comes on the heels of Borrowed Beams’ self-titled EP, and a split 7" with the Invisible Hand. It expands and hones the progressive hooks found on those releases, carving the band’s initials into the great tree of guitar pop with more confidence and nuance. The band cites The Kinks and Fleetwood Mac as influences, and that’s a good starting point. The record brings to mind another one of this year’s superb releases, Destroyer’s Kaputt, which unravels with a similar breezy ease. It also exudes a giddy melodic energy in the vein of classic groups like Sparks and Dinosaur Jr.
Fronted by guitarist Nate Walsh and Invisible Hand drummer Adam Brock, Borrowed Beams debuted two summers ago and immediately proved that the pair could craft songs as well as Brock could bang the skins. Stellar Hoax goes one step further, showing that they can also put together a cohesive and compelling album. From the revving splashes of opener “Plants” to the closing title track, the record is more in a 1970s vinyl mold than a 2000s mp3 playlist. The Voynich Manuscript concept contributes to that vintage form, but it never overwhelms. As the band clarifies on the album’s Kickstarter page, “This is not a rock opera! It’s a pop album.”
The songs on Stellar Hoax are varied, borrowing from different decades and strains of rock, but all are fueled by strong vocal and guitar melodies. “Half Light” is a fuzzy pop song that could have emerged from the infamous Elephant 6 collective in its heyday. The album’s acoustic keystone, “Night Watch,” takes on the same role as “Thirteen” on Big Star’s #1 Record or “Landslide” on Fleetwood Mac. “Hang 1000,” a neo-surf rock instrumental with a title as funny as it is appropriate, sounds like Link Wray navigating a yacht in space. “Holy Cow” and “King & Queen” are both stomp-along tunes that take off at a quick pace but know when to come up for air. Stellar Hoax’s title track is its last and best moment, capping off the album with ringing chords and a resounding refrain. “This stellar hoax of mine / let it shine,” Brock sings. “If it don’t last all night / that’s fine.”
When you borrow something for long enough, it essentially becomes yours, and that’s whereStellar Hoax finds Borrowed Beams. They’ve picked up hooks, tones and themes from all over the place and made them their own. The album title is only half true, and it’s definitely not a hoax.