The formula: A gangly acoustic guitar bed onto which silky-smooth vocals, swelling electrified guitar leads, organ, keyboard violin orchestration are layered. Call it retro-psychedelic, call it spacerock, call it shoegazing; one should also call it epic - at least in scope and length.

Daystar is Lab Partners' debut release for hometown label, Big Beef Records (Dayton, OH), as well as their first non-self-produced release. As narcotic-laced as anything Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is doing and definitely reminiscent of greats like the Jesus & Mary Chain and Ride, Lab Partners are really not innovators, yet they seem to be better at communicating their emotions through their songs than any of the previously mentioned stars. Not included on Daystar are piles of hidden meaning and innuendo - one of the band's strongest suits is that singer/guitarist Mike Smith wears his heart, and his melodies on his sleeve.

All the way through the record, the listener is encouraged to take flight along with the band, whether it is to a distant galaxy or just right around the corner for a cup of coffee and a scone. The listener is hooked into their journey straight off by Smith's endearing vocal charm and sparse acoustic accompaniment on "Gold". Slightly quirky, the track could be a lost recording from a Ben Lee or Sean Lennon session.

Daystar fully hooks the listener with the carefully constructed "You Make It Better" and dutifully reels him in on the marathon-distanced "Still Shine On" - which grows into probably the best 10-plus-minute excursion of the year - the story never gets old, the progression is never tiring.

Another of the album's odysseys (4 of the 14 tracks outdistance the 6-minute mark), "Furthest From Love", seems to decisively establish the Lab Partners' mastery of layer-and-build songwriting. The opening keyboard and drum skeleton gets a heavy dose of horns and swelling multi-tracked vocals midway through, until the song gets a triumphant, screaming guitar solo turning the original dirge into an almost anthemic thing. Of course the band isn't done there - after a huge breakdown, they are at it again with the build, now adding tambourine and perhaps a tinge of gospel and some well-placed "Bah-bah-bah-dah"-s.

In the end, "Furthest From Love" is really a descriptor for the whole of Daystar - in its ability to take the listener to 15 different places, usually not all-at-once, yet without suffering one bit from its diversity of elements.

- Jason Dixon (

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