Nothing short of stellar, star, star conjures a world of its own filled with wonders worthy of nothing less than jaw dropping awe.

Release date: November 17, 2023 | Independent | Bandcamp | Spotify | Website

In a whirlwind of shared excitement and mutual discovery, Jean Pierre and I, stumbled upon a hidden gem within the expansive world of music — an album called star, star by mingjia.

star, star unfolds as an immersive experience, demanding undivided attention from start to finish, weaving a narrative that transcends mere music and delves into a realm of emotional connectivity and storytelling. Despite its relative obscurity in the broader music landscape, star, star holds an undeniable allure for those who unearth its brilliance, inviting listeners into a realm of sonic exploration unlike any other.

We figured that through a conversational exchange, we might attempt to begin to unravel the layers of this remarkable piece of artistry, diving into its multifaceted delivery, wide array of influences, and the emotive resonance it holds for us both. We both hope that through this endeavor, we might light a spark which will eventually let star, star shine like the star it really is, in this immense musical universe.

Robert: So, it’s been a while since we did one of these, **checks notes, gazes incredulously into the distance with a thousand-yard stare above the narrow reading glasses** nearly 18 months to really put it in perspective. I think it’s about high time we turn that number back to 0.

Jean Pierre: Hell yeah brother, I’ve also been itching to tackle something together, even more so with something as great as the record at hand.

R: Well, I think we waited long enough, would you care to kick things off?

JP: So, star, star is one of those special, hidden treats our blessed Toni snuck into his notable weekly release list. I usually try make a half-assed effort to check out these releases but it’s already so much music to keep up with, even with all the stuff not on featured on there.

Out of everything on this particular list, there was just something about this record called to me and I whimsically gave it a shot out of everything else on there and from the moment I hit play, I knew it was going to be something special. I instantly knew you’d also dig the hell out of it as well and now here we are talking about it.

R: Yeah, thankfully you shared it with me because I would’ve missed it big time. I can’t even begin to describe what a loss it would’ve been to miss out on this. I kind of knew when you shared this with me, the moment I saw the album art, I would either hate or love this. I was simply blown away the moment this started playing. There’s just so much to unpack here isn’t there?

JP: Now just imagine all those hidden gems out there that pass us by on any given day. A little depressing to think about all the great music we’ll never get to discover simply because there is so much out there. Music as fantastic as this could very easily (and does) go under the radar, hell the Spotify stream counts for this record are sub-1000 for each song; that’s criminal. Makes me a little frustrated that this record isn’t getting the attention it deserves but at least we can remedy that to a small degree here with some publicity, eh? But yes, so much to unpack that we’ll likely only begin to scratch the surface if anything.

R: Absolutely! I do prefer to think more optimistically about this, rather that, us as listeners, have an inexhaustible supply of music. There’s always something new and awesome to discover. This is indeed much less fortunate for the creators. Although I’m sure that even with these niche masterpiece type records, an audience will form and they will eventually get attention, even if not as much as we honestly think is deserved. Also, yes, we should definitely strive to get star, star some attention – mingjia did something truly outstanding here! I’m honestly kind of baffled by the apparently sudden and unexpected emergence of this album, virtually out of nowhere. It screams quality on every possible front and it seems it required what amounts to, for all intents and purposes in the context of indie music, a small army of people to get done!

JP: Yeah, it really is a travesty for the creators out there indeed. The least we can do as listeners/consumers is to be vigilant in listening to new music from a wide variety of artists. It is those types of listeners that help keep truly genuine music like star, star alive. As is evident from just a single minute’s worth of music here, mingjia has one of those endlessly creative minds that I am truly envious of. I wish I had a mere hundredth of a percent of the creative ambition and technical ability that is captured here, but better her (and other creators) than me as long as it leads to more music of this caliber. It is always those out-of-left-field types of releases that make for the most pleasant of surprises.

R: It does take a very special type of creative engine to elaborate such ideas. mingjia is really touching on music on an entirely new level as I see it. This has usually been a level of production, composition, and instrumentation, which was reserved to seasoned, veteran composers with virtually endless budgets and all the other types of backing. The more I listen to this album, twist it and turn it in my hands like the gem it is, obsessively staring down on every edge and beam of refracting light, I’m all the more hard-pressed to figure out where to begin the monumentally daunting task of disentangling it and systematically arranging a summary (also because I’m too busy being drenched in awe). I’ve been impressed by records a lot, and I don’t throw out daring statements of the sort, but I feel like this has all the odds of becoming one of those cult classics in time. I firmly believe that star, star could be the subject of an academic paper on composition, in every facet of what that entails.

JP: I concur with you there, a simple review such as this (even if it is conversational) is just a drop in the water in the endless discussion star, star inspires and warrants. I truly do wish it becomes a cult classic as it would mean it develops a substantial number of listeners/followers, which is way more than exists currently. While there has been a myriad of fantastic releases this year alone, nothing has truly wowed me like this album has and I survive off of that type of thrilling discovery, so I am constantly on the hunt for the next album like that.

Based on what I can gather from the music itself, but also from mingjia‘s Bandcamp and own website is that this record is a culmination of her childhood and cultural upbringings. It truly feels like a grandiose musical journey that takes you through all the defining moments of another individual’s life story as if you’re spectating from the sidelines.

We’ve been chatting broadly about how great the music is, but have yet to actually touch on what the music itself entails. Would you want to lead us into that?

R: I feel put on the spot, but I did willingly assign myself to this endeavor. In a fit of frenzied excitement after my first listen, I called star, star a turbo mix of Tom & Jerry music, modern jazz bits, Lack the Low, Courtney Swain solo material, and a pinch of Sarah Neufeld; however, that’s definitely exactly what it was at the time – a statement born entirely out of hype and infatuation. I can’t say that in hindsight I disagree entirely with my very first impression, but it is an extremely limited way of putting things and also needlessly sensationalistic. Although I do have to emphasize that one of the main directive lines, at least stylistically and in terms of mood, seems to hearken strongly to golden era Disney soundtrack music, albeit, with a lovely modern edge and a lot of well executed off kilter turns and twists. What do you think about this particular aspect?

JP: You’re lucky I’m familiar with all those artists and am old enough to also remember Tom & Jerry otherwise that’d make zero sense. With that being said, yeah, you hit the nail right on the head with that description. I never, ever would’ve thought of it myself, but deep in the back of my mind, I was subconsciously thinking the same thing as all those artist comparisons make perfect sense, its uncanny how you thought of that. Baroque/chamber pop is very much hit or miss for me, and goddamn is this a smash.

To me, a good chunk of this music is ‘instrumental onomatopoeia’ in a way, which I would imagine refers to your observation of the Tom & Jerry music and the free jazz. There is so much going on that it ultimately feels so fragmented and disjointed; yet, it is beautifully held together by the superglue of mingjia‘s vocals, enough so, that it actually works and sounds larger than life itself. 99% of the time when someone tries their hand at utterly complex music like this, it fails miserably and mingjia is the 1% that’s capable of pulling it off and making it sound heavenly without showing a bead of sweat. It really is a Disney soundtrack that fully indulges every whim and fancy that makes for a classically trained musicians (or music nerds) wet dream, all without compromising the musical integrity of the album.

R: I have to say, I agree with all of your remarks. Now, going back a bit to your observation that star, star is a culmination of mingjia‘s childhood and cultural upbringing, I don’t know much about any of that, which, oddly enough makes the musical narrative all the more enthralling – somehow. It does also make sense, even not knowing that. There’s an intensely cinematic quality to the flow of the album, both in terms of rhythm and melody, but in terms of instrumentation and dynamics as well. Every aspect has a very carefully crafted line which is responsible for adding detail to each scene. The kinetic sense stemming outwards, makes for a highly visual experience, akin to few other things I’ve met out there in the musical realm. There’s also a highly organic feeling that I can’t clearly put into words about the tunes. It’s something soft, squishy, warm, vibrant, authentic, and eerily relatable.

JP: With the various spoken word/poems segments healthily sprinkled in throughout the record, it was somewhat clear that there was something going on conceptually. There were a lot of subtle touches I gleaned in reference to Chinese folklore as well, the usage of the guzheng being an obvious hint for example. I haven’t had a chance yet to dig into the lyrical content beyond having a general understanding of the lyrical inspirations as I am still navigating the music itself and will be for quite some time. One day I’ll get there.

As you said, the cinematic quality of the record is vital to how large it feels both on a musical and emotional level. The way it is masterfully paced and arranged makes for a full album listen that demands your full attention from beginning to end. I am not one that willingly seeks out music with spoken word passages but when they’re executed and utilized as well as they are on star, star, it only enhances that cinematic essence. I will admit that the tracks here aren’t made to be heard individually on playlists or whatnot, it’s purely a full album experience and loses most of its hypnotic effect outside of that context.

Also, I really like that last sentence of yours there; I never would’ve thought to use ‘squishy’ as a way to describe music, but it is the most suitable adjective to describe star, star.

R: Indeed, however, honestly, that’s literally my only “issue” (for the lack of a better word) with the album – the spoken word segments. I was never a fan of spoken words to go along with tunes. I guess it just rubs me the wrong way when it comes to music, I’m also definitely not a fan of the fact that it hearkens heavily to musicals – not big on those myself. I refrain from calling it outright an issue, because it’s simply a strict matter of preference. It works quite well in context and it’s beautifully woven together with the rest of the segments. It doesn’t feel outright forced or out of place, or anything of the sort. I am a bit worn down though by the spoken word segments on “& Then”. I understand what the song is going for there, it’s kind of a meta musical effect, but it doesn’t make it any less tiresome.

I’m glad I got that out of the way. It’s the only remotely “negative” thing I have to underline about the album.

I’ve listened to a lot of albums which feel like stories, as I’m sure you have as well. However, this album feels like a story as if it’s an entire novel condensed into 68 minutes, not like a short story or a sketch spread out. I feel it’s quite aptly expanded upon; I can feel time compress and unwind at will, depending on the chapter of the story we’re on, much like you’d feel with a book which you really caught the taste of and you can’t let it go until you binge all of it, nigh compulsively, in one sitting, in what closely resembles a fugue state.

At any rate, I do feel like I have to also mention that the “moon suite” is easily my favorite part of the album. Of course, I have a huge weakness for the guzheng which is present on “moon I: time is but a sound”, but that’s only a small part of it. There’s a highly vivid lyrical/poetic quality surrounding the entire suite, which radiantly emanates from its every seam and I’m all here for it.

JP: Not every song on every album needs to be a banger, so perhaps the purpose of those spoken word segments in addition to providing lyrical context is to mimic the ‘lulls’ (for lack of a better word) that come with life itself. Life isn’t always super busy and hectic and sometimes can just be deceptively empty and that’s okay, it’s all part of the human experience and I see the spoken word segments in that same light.

I feel like your ‘Yes man’, as I find myself constantly agreeing with everything you’re saying haha. I thought we’d have some differing opinions but it’s hard to not fall head over heels for the pure magic that star, star is as we clearly both have. Anyways yeah, I too am infatuated with the “moon suite” (I have a thing for musical suites in general), although I’d say that “moon II: dusk, dawn” is my personal favorite of the bunch. It is just instrumental bliss through and through, especially with the upright bass that provides so much gusto and sass. Outside of the “moon suite”, the opening track, “Sane // the dancer”, is another highlight for me. While this record is precisely the type of record that demands you listen all the way through, if you absolutely had to listen to just a single track, it’d be this one and only this one as it encapsulates all the musical ideas and emotions captured on the album packaged neatly in a one go.

R: I have to admit it is starting to feel a lot like an echo chamber haha, as I also agree with basically everything you are saying. Look, I mean, it’s not the type of album that’s built on ‘bangers’. It’s not a metalcore flick or anything of the sort haha. It definitely hits hard, although, in an entirely different way. I believe the best way to put it would be to say that it touches us, since it passes all our barriers. I think it’s a perfect example of alternate beauty versus conventional beauty, on a musical level. It speaks volumes without uttering a single word at times. It pushes substance over style, gracefully if I do dare say so myself. It does the most elegant slam dunks with incredibly catchy hooks, only to then do a 180 and spit out some unusual, yet incredibly satisfying harmonic resolves, with a wholly natural flair. Its oddball charm is the very thing which makes it coruscate in ecstatic reverie, like a lone star across the idle night sky, on a quiet evening.

I love star, star for the very fact that it dares to be itself, no matter what that is. It dares to be true to itself. It chooses to send out a message, carefully planned out, of its own volition, with an uncanny conviction. Its surreal, sidereal beauty, is one that stems from honesty, and there’s no kind of beauty that lights up your heart more than that. I could feel it the moment I hit play, but it’s incredibly difficult to summarize, or rather, to aptly convey this, without being flush with words and expanding on some things at length – as we did here. Naturally, the way everything is wrapped up is extremely appealing, spanning so many disparate styles, uniting in one homogenous, perfectly calculated, organic whole like a sci-fi biomechanical machine – complex in assembly and deceivingly simple in concept, meticulously crafted, working as intended, flowing effortlessly, as if Mother Nature herself made it so.

JP: I never thought I’d see the day where you of all people would say something as sappy, as poetic as it is, as that. This album truly is special if it can pull that out of you. I honestly don’t even know how to follow up with that, as that was so beautifully said, so let’s leave it at that!

Robert Miklos

Robert Miklos

What can I say? I love slapping keys and listening to squiggly air.

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