As sensitive, precious rock bands go, Track Star is a cut above the usual collection of mopey boys with degrees from the Woe-Is-Me Finishing School. Matthew Troy and Wyatt Cusick, who share guitar and vocal duties, write catchy songs that seldom delve into the fey pretentiousness that afflicts so many of their brethren; the duo’s acidulous wit and bitter detachment suggest tough souls within their sensitive exteriors.
Troy and Cusick began making music with a drum machine in San Francisco in 1990, officially launching Track Star three years later with a live drummer. Early recordings (by which time Todd Sullivan had replaced the first human drummer) ranged from poor to promising, but Sometimes, What’s the Difference? is a great leap forward and the raw template on which they would base their next two records. The Sebadoh-meets-Wedding Present series of songs revisits the archetypal ’90s rock soft-to-loud dynamic with a typically self-deprecating bent best exemplified by “Bad Time” (“She will always cry at the drop of a hat / And I wonder why I’m the only guy who ever dropped a hat”). Bitter wit lifts the EP from the dumps and allows Cusick to get away with crooning “Sometimes I think about my funeral / And whoooooo’s gonna be there” (“The View From Space”) over jangling guitars that tend to turn sludgy and loud. The EP has its share of inconsequential B-side candidates, but the trio generally nails a tried-and-true formula, and adds something of its own.
Any album that begins with the couplet “I’ve got three ideas in my head / One’s to choke on fumes ’till I’m dead” is hellbent on being dour (and neither of the other ideas is particularly uplifting, either), but Communicaiton Breaks is leavened with enough humor, rage, sly barbs and nods to the third Velvet Underground record to offset the boo-hoo-hoo-ing over broken relationships. Most songs begin with a gentle melody (Track Star is sad) and burn slowly until the guitars are so loud Cusick has to scream to be heard (Track Star is also angry!). Emotional turmoil is tiring, so the lackadaisical lads take occasional breathers with whispery ballads (“One Hundred Degrees,” “Dead Today”), conserving energy to put down the poseur stealing their girls in “The Big Fuck You” (“It must be nice to feel so tortured / When the chicks all eat it up”). At once familiar-sounding and refreshing, the record is marred only by the half hour of feedback and a two-chord riff at the end of the last song, the otherwise pleasant “West Coast Weather.”
While not releasing another album for five years, Track Star toured with the Shins, Modest Mouse and Imperial Teen. Cusick made two albums with Aislers Set, an album with Doug Shepherd and cut Track Star demos with Troy and a drum machine. The pair ultimately scrapped those recordings and made Lion Destroyed the Whole World with drummer Brian Girgus (Lowercase). It has a mellowed, more mature sound that never feels rushed despite fitting 11 songs into 30 minutes. Cusick and Troy, sharing bass duties for the first time, coo and whisper their way through slow, pretty numbers like “Feet First” with a slightly more optimistic outlook (“I know to expect the worst / So when it falls apart, I’m gonna land on my feet first”). The pop bashers (“The One We Play,” “Pretty Close to Nothing”) are similarly excellent.
Track Star last performed in January 2005; Cusick has since done shows with Still Flyin’, a 15-member reggae supergroup of San Francisco indie rock poobahs.