“Oh Stars” launches with an understated old-school backbeat, revolving around one insistent chord that recurs with “ta-da!”-like charm; the music sounds like the feeling of something marvelous about to happen. And in a subtle way it does; “Oh Stars” may not at first knock your socks off but it succeeds with a mature “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” poise. And, it clocks in at a tidy 2:53, which is less unusual than it used to be in a Spotify/TikTok world, but in the verse-chorus-verse universe this still indicates admirable restraint.
Front man and songwriter John Dufilho, meanwhile, himself employs an understated vocal style to match the established vibe; he could surely cut loose were he not in this contemplative mood, looking at the stars and pondering life. It ends up feeling a bit like a magic trick, how Dufilho creates substance out of almost nothing I can specifically point to. Maybe it’s his melancholy but determined tone, maybe it’s the way the sing-song-y melody complements the resolute flow, or maybe it’s something as basic but unexpected as the piano which grounds the song in a series of unfussy chords that seem to be hiding in plain sight–you won’t necessarily hear them until you listen for them.
If “Oh Stars” feels like a bit of a throwback, there’s good reason for it: the Dallas-based Deathray Davies were a project born in the late ’90s, with a heyday coinciding with the heyday of indie rock in the early to mid-’00s. “Oh Stars” comes from a new album, Time Well Wasted, released last month after what Dufilho has called “a 15-year nap.” The Deathray Davies leader hasn’t himself been napping in the meantime, having been busy through the years with a series of other Dallas area musical projects, including the bands Clifffs, Cantina, and Motorcade. He was also, as of the late ’00s, absorbed into the Athens, Georgia-based musical collective Apples in Stereo, a band that itself has mostly been on hiatus for 10 years or so as well.