The Starlight Mints 

Thursday, March 18; the Gargoyle at Washington University

There has to be a place for the Starlight Mints. How many other bands will make "If you pull me apart, don't swallow my heart" (from "Submarine #3") the catchiest line you've heard in more than two weeks?

A five-piece outfit led by singer/guitarist Alan Vest, the Mints hail from Oklahoma, just like the Flaming Lips. If life was fair, the comparisons would end there, but anyone who's seen the Master P episode of Cribs knows life isn't fair. The Mints have even taken some heat -- in this publication, no less -- for touring with the very band they seek separation from.

It's a shame, because the band's string-arrangement indulgences and unconventional chord changes actually owe as much to Belle and Sebastian as to anyone else, and Vest's vocal inflections are those of a lifelong Frank Black worshipper. They seem to idly pick up and put down several styles, often within the same song, before ultimately settling on a stilted, swaggering, '60s-era pop best exemplified in "The Twilight Showdown" and "Black Cat." Close your eyes and you can see a pack of mod swingers getting groovy during the intervals of Laugh-In or Get Smart.

If nothing else, 2000's The Dream That Stuff Was Made Of was a cleverly titled debut album, and its inclusion of "Cracker Jack" and "Submarine #3" certainly didn't hurt. The Mints' follow-up, Built on Squares, keeps the ball rolling, but it still has a ways to go to catch up unless there's some sort of nationwide tour to support it. Oh, right.

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