Sea Ray – Stars At Noon

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Another lost classic from the ‘90s, Sea Ray’s second and final LP is a true joy. The band was born in Brooklyn in 1997 and self-released a self-titled album that year. They snagged Tobin Sprout (Guided By Voices) to produce a subsequent EP and started generating buzz; this album followed in 2003. I have no idea what happened after that. As of the time of Stars at Noon, the band consisted of Anne Brewster on cello, Colin Brooks behind the kit, I-Huei Go playing the bass, Jeff Shienkopf on keyboards, Jordan Warner singing and playing guitar, and Greg Zinman on guitar. Go has written for the New Yorker and the Observer, and is a schoolteacher. Sheinkopf eventually joined Longwave. Zinman taught at NYU and Georgia Tech, is a curator, and is the author of many works relating to art. Brooks drummed for a bunch of bands, including Samiam.

What I Think of This Album

Cosmic without being druggy, lush without being shoegaze, chamber pop without being precious, and serious without being earnest, Sea Ray’s Stars At Noon album is a resplendent and distinctive work. It’s easy to overcredit the cello and keyboards for making these songs special, but for all their importance, their sounds only resonate because they hang on well-crafted songs ripe with melody and propelled by Warner’s vocals.  

“Sister Gone” is graceful and forceful, like a waterspout making its way to the shore. “Revelry” benefits from the viola of guest Beth Hondl, and this track swells and moves like the giant wave on the cover of Ride’s Nowhere album. How much water imagery can I employ in this review of Sea Ray? We shall sea.

There is a decidedly indie-rock sound to “Quiver,” which is considerably more spiky and dangerous than the surrounding tracks, but the sparkling keyboards and creaking cello help to make it more than just another attempt by a New York band to be dark and moody. The emphatic “LaLaLand” is also on the more rockin’ end of the spectrum, with fine work from drummer Colin Brooks and either fuzz bass or keyboards.

The band returns to its more gentle and melodic strengths with the strange “Stray Dog’s Got It Made,” which references bullets, war, pistol-whipping, “a killing machine,” and sleeping exposed to the elements. “Swear to Your Face” is a compelling ballad, in which Go’s bass provides a strong undertow while Brewster’s cello skims the surface (though I am pretty sure I hear viola in there, too). 

The best song is the fascinating and poppy “Nicholas Ray,” which is definitely about the film director (and also name-checks executive Jack Warner and actor-spouse (to Ray) Gloria Grahame). On top of its supreme melodicism, it also boasts lines like “We’re from New York, not Beverly Hills / And I ain’t ever lost a fight.” Every member of the band makes a crucial contribution to this enchanting song, and guest Anna Quimby adds flute.  

Hondl returns on the melancholic and beautiful “Forge Utopia,” and the album ends with “Hall of Fame,” a brooding and layered piece that erupts into an impressively dense squall. The only flaw with this album is that it is too short at just nine songs. 

Recording and production duties were handled by Peter Katis (producer of Interpol and the National) and Pete Min (engineer for Longwave).

The Best Thing About This Album

The unique sound.

Release Date

October, 2003

The Cover Art

I can’t tell if there are five or six figures on the cover; there are six band members so I hope they did this right. I do appreciate the water shot and the sun sparkling on the waves, but the greenish color scheme is off somehow, and the text looks like it was placed without much thought.

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