There’s a fine, scruffy rock band deep inside Oklahoma’s Starlight Mints, but one in need of a good editor. At their Troubadour appearance Sunday, they performed about two hours’ worth of catchy hook-laden pop. Unfortunately, their set lasted only one hour, which made for some overly cluttered music.
Like the Decembrists and the Fiery Furnaces, Starlight Mints’ jittery tunes undercut their pop instincts. They can’t let a riff or a melody go for more than a few bars before they layer a dissonant countermelody, a new rhythmic element, an extra vocal line or simply jerk the song in a different direction. Lead singer Allen Vest adds to the sense of sonic dislocation by changing his vocal style from song to song: he sings through a horn mute, or forces his voice into a strangled yelp, harmonizes with keyboardist Marian Love Nunez, or, uses his natural, slightly askew, in a Ray Davies-styled croon.
It’s a strategy that yields intriguing results on their new album, “Drowaton” (Barsuk), but live, performing with four additional musicians onstage, the band comes off like someone talking on their cell phone while sending text messages on their Blackberry, reading email and keeping an eye on the kids: multitasking gone amok. Only “Rosemarie,” the set’s most simply constructed song, truly satisfies.
There’s a fine line between clever and too clever; Starlight Mints need to figure out where it lies.
Starlight Mints play New York’s Bowery Ballroom on June 12.