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For Stars [Feature]

For Stars

Written by Jon Rooney.

In the late 90’s and early 00’s, For Stars released four full-length CDs on small West Coast indie Future Farmer Recordings, whose claim to fame is surely the introduction of M. Ward to the world years before Merge and his ingénue duets, as well as one EP of outtakes on the impossibly fertile Spanish label Acuarela Discos. Bay Area-based For Stars made very sad, very clear and staggeringly sparse music marked by leader Carlos Forster’s soaring falsetto and vaguely Beach Boys-esque melodies. His songs were about loss, longing, aging, and decay in the simplest, most direct terms. Never resorting to decorate his lyrics with clever artifice or cloudy metaphysics, Forster instead charged forward with sentiments so honest and unselfconscious that they could be, and were, easily overlooked (see Pitchfork’s shitty review of the band’s final release, …It Falls Apart). For a band with five members, the song arrangements were roomy, mellow and, above all, pretty – jazz brushes on a snare, an old synth mixed low, a stranded electric guitar playing single-string lead lines, the like. For Stars based an entire aesthetic around the kind of lovelorn magic captured so famously in REM’s “Nightswimming”; a sense of post-adolescent heartache and loneliness that should have made them the thinking and feeling person’s musical bookend to the Mountain Goats.

In the years since 2004’s …It Falls Apart ushered the band off the ever-ridiculous indie scene with a tragic whimper, For Stars has yet to enjoy any sort of post-mortem appreciation aside from occasional namedrops from old friend M. Ward in interviews. In fact, the band’s final days were rife with indignities and disappointments. I remember picking up a copy of …It Falls Apart the week it came out at the long-departed Tower Records in North Beach only to be horrified to notice that the text on the spine was printed upside down. How did that happen? That’s the kind of careless nonsense generally found on hastily-pressed CDs by local bands with an inattention to details in the days before the MP3 forever liberated music from the shackles of fair compensation. Did Future Farmer not catch the error on the proofs, and once they got copies from the plant did they not see the point in repressing? It was such a depressing omen. Or symbol. Take your pick.

I believe my wife and I also saw the band’s final show, which was one last, sad display. This band, who once toured with Doves and opened for Wilco at the Fillmore while shooting I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, was relegated to the support slot for Two Gallants, a hype-laden duo barely out of their local high school who was returning from some tour or another to triumphantly headline the Independent, a slightly sub-Fillmore venue that featured mostly national bands and only the most formidable of local acts at the time (John Vanderslice, Rogue Wave, etc.). The place was packed with Two Gallants’ friends and family, many of whom I assumed were unfamiliar with basic indie show etiquette. The room was a cacophony of talking and general inattention to the band on stage, making it difficult to hear the songs’ delicate arrangements. I did catch Forster’s final, defeated “Thanks, that’s it” or something similar that he muttered from the stage amid a smattering of barely polite applause before packing up his gear.

If you’ve read this far, I’ll assume you’re intrigued. 1999’s Windows for Stars is a great place to start. While no official site currently exists for the band, you can catch a cross-section of For Stars’ music on MySpace.

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