Starfish64 are a German progressive rock band led by the versatile Dieter Hoffmann (guitar, vocals, keyboards, programming). Formed in 2006, Hoffman originally created Starfish64 as an outlet for his acoustic, singer-songwriter solo work but with progressive elements creeping into his sound, Hoffman inducted Henrik Kopp (drums), Dominik Suhl (guitar) and Martin Powell (bass, guitar, keyboard, vocals) into the band as permanent members in order to flesh out these ambitious elements. The first success’ of this new progressive outfit were 2016’s ‘An Altered State of Joy’ and 2018’s ‘The Future In Reverse’, the former boasting the 23 minute opener ‘Altered States’. Showcasing their ability to create atmospheric, dreamy art rock, Starfish64’s latest 2020 release ‘The Crimson Cabinet’ develops upon this same sound but with an overall sense of melancholia that will appeal to fans of Tim Bowness.
As well as hearing Tim Bowness, the compositional features bring Hogarth-era Marillion to mind; the lush soundscapes, the melodic bass lines and the most gorgeous clean guitar chords coupled together with heartfelt solos that often intermingle with Dietrich’s vocals – which conveniently don’t sound a million miles away from Steve Hogarth. Most importantly, the music refuses to be grandiose and overblown, opting for atmosphere over complexity and stark shifts in musical ideas that would disturb the album’s gentle flow – each track smoothly and delicately makes its way from beginning to end. All of these elements work together to create some of the most beautiful examples of catchy, melodic dream pop.
The album opens with the ambiguous ‘In The Lobby’ – as it says on the tin, this short track centres around the sounds of a busy lobby, which assumedly houses the crimson cabinet and introduces a descending melody that crops up later in the album. This then segues smoothly into ‘Spindrift’, a sweet sounding, relaxed pop song that hooks you into its catchy chorus. It ends on a more sombre note as the bass and piano melodies intermingle underneath some narration from Hoffmann. ‘Lost & Found’ is similar in style but carries on this sense of melancholy to an even greater extent, the lyrics outlining an aimless road trip that seems to go on indefinitely. For any listeners feeling a little weighed down at this point, fear not, for relief comes in the form of ‘Future Perfect Tense’ and ‘Mr O’ Brayne’ which both feel more energised, driven and have a clearer groove to get the head nodding. The latter is particularly driven; the distorted guitars really stand out here and are responsible for giving this track more grit than any other track on the album. ‘Future Perfect Tense’ may not be as gritty, but it does have the most addictive groove in the chorus and, interestingly, features a children’s choir which is a rare choice of instrumentation. However, the real centrepiece of the album is the title track which returns to a feeling of melancholia and ambience. If you can remember the descending melody from ‘In The Lobby’, you’ll notice its prevalence here – you can’t go wrong with recurring motifs! If you’re like me and love euphoric endings, you will love the ending here complete with choir mellotron and a soulful guitar solo. The final two tracks of the album are again similar in style; ‘The Future In Reverse’ offers six and a half minutes of painful emotion felt in every note played and sung, before the music takes a sudden change in direction towards something more energised and uplifting. ‘Nowhere Bound’ revisits the theme of an aimless journey (as suggested by the title) previously outlined in ‘Lost And Found’. The music of course suits this bleak topic, the melancholia prevalent throughout the album lasting till the very end.
Once you enter the Crimson Cabinet, you never want to leave! This band really excel in creating beautiful sounds shrouded in uncertainty and melancholia. Could this perhaps be called prog pop? I’m sceptical of such a term but nevertheless I enjoy the straightforward, catchier moments just as much as the more ambiguous excerpts of music on the album. With a lengthy back-catalogue, there is plenty more to hear whilst we await more new music from this talented bunch in the future…that is if/when you can drag yourselves out of the Crimson Cabinet!
Written by Dominic Sanderson
You can find Starfish64 on Facebook and Instagram! ‘The Crimson Cabinet’ is available on all major streaming platforms!