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So Far From Home
Artist:  Brave Saint Saturn
Label:  5 Minute Walk
There are probably a lot of expectations for Brave Saint Saturn, Reese Roper, Keith Hoerig and Dennis Culp's side project.  Those who are familiar with Roper and Culp from the popular Christian ska band Five Iron Frenzy may be expecting a sound similar to that band, with upbeat chords and horns.  Consumers who see the album cover and the band's name in the store may think of space-rock in the vein of The Prayer Chain or The Choir.  Still others who read the credits may see "programming" and immediately think of a rap or techno project.  So what exactly is Brave Saint Saturn?  Does it meet up with any of these expectations, or even combine several of them?

Simply put, no.  BSS is highly listenable (for the most part), 80s-tinged guitar pop.  Sure, there are synthesizers sprinkled over many of the songs, but not nearly enough for the album to be filed under dance music.  There's absolutely no hint of ska in the guitars (played by none other than Roper himself, previously known only as a singer), and aside from the lyrics on a few songs, nothing about So Far From Home really reminds me of space. 

What the band does offer, however, is a list of pop hooks the size of your arm--songs like "Space Robot Five" and "Independence Day" are far more catchy than anything Five Iron's put out, and while most of the tracks don't  stand up to that band's insightful lyricism and sheer intensity, the album carries its own vibe very well. 

Many of the songs revolve around Roper's fiancee's unfortunate departure in May of 1999.  Thus, lyrics like those of "Independence Day" and "Moon Burns Bright" are completely heartbreaking:

    I can think of better synonyms for fear
     I hope your life is great; I hope it's been a wonderful year
     Waiting every day
     Staring at the phone
     Jesus Christ, I feel so empty and alone
     (From "Independence Day")

     She is the brightest star that's in the sky
     She is the reason every astronaut would fly
     I see the lighting clouds of white on Cobalt fields of blue
     I close my eyes and sigh 
     I can't believe it's true
     (From "Moon Burns Bright")

Other standout tracks include the hilarious Christian rap send-up "Shadow of  Def" (including a special guest rap from 5 Minute Walk Records founder Frank "Frankie T." Tate!), "Resistor," Roper's ode to his heartbroken little sister, and "Two-Twenty-Nine," which works despite its chorus's somewhat muddy mixing job.

All in all, Roper, Culp and Hoerig have crafted an excellent pop album, perhaps not on the level of Five Iron's last release, but still very much worth the fans' time and money.  Unfortunately, the liner notes hint that this will be the band's only release - with rumours of a FIF breakup in the air, fans will want any chance they can get to hear Roper strut his stuff.

Michial Farmer 06/14/2000

When Five Iron Frenzy's lead singer and lyricist Reese Roper started writing songs that didn't fit the usual Five Iron music style, Brave Saint Saturn was born. The side project was created by Roper as an outlet for his thoughts on subjects he thought too dark and emotional for Five Iron Frenzy. The songs deal with tragedy, sorrow, and the hardships of the world. His Five Iron Frenzy band mates Keith Hoerig, and Dennis Culp contribute their talents to the album along with former Five Iron member Scott Kerr. The music centers around the main trio playing electric, acoustic, and bass guitar, although there are many different layers. With the addition of programming, sampling, and many studio musicians, the songs become very complex. Roper's melodies flow beautifully over the exceedingly well-played pop/rock music.

The album opens with "Prologue," a short instrumental with recordings of astronauts talking over the music. The astronaut recordings are included on other songs, adding to the space theme of the entire CD. The songs following all tell seriously about a loss, loneliness or pain, with the exception of "Shadow of Def." It's a mock hip-hop/rap song with lots of "street lingo" and some "Yo"s thrown in. It seems silly to begin with, but the last stanza tells the listener to "turn off the TV, put down the phone, go talk to 'JC' and be alone," letting the true meaning come through. The more serious song "Two-Twenty-Nine" is about Roper's painful loss of his grandmother and how he deals with it. Samples and slower music add to the haunting quality of the piece. His singing is very passionate and meaningful, so much so that the beautiful chorus comes easily to life:

In a world of dying children,
Rain never seems to cease,
I will hope for things unseen now,
One day my heart will be at peace,
I said I loved her and she knew it,
Whispered softly to the sky tonight,
She is warm and safe in Heaven,
In the loving arms of Jesus Christ.
Brave Saint Saturn easily draws away from the regularly upbeat sound of Five Iron Frenzy and goes for more of a darker mood and they pull it off excellently. The music and lyrics are combined perfectly to create a spacey-pop odyssey that will be sure to make So Far From Home a hit.

Chelsea Lewis 6/28/00

 

   
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