Since the release of the modern shoegaze classic Leave Here a Stranger, Jason Martin and Starflyer 59 have been slowing stripping back the layered and processed sound they utilized so perfectly on that album. Moving to a simpler and more direct sonic approach can cause problems if the songs are weak. Martin has proven again and again that he’s equal to the challenge of writing memorable, emotional songs that would sound good no matter how they are arranged or recorded. On The Changing of the Guard, he delivers another batch of low-key melodic and hooky tunes that will satisfy SF59 fans who are used to the high-quality output that’s been established over the past 17 (!) years. The changes since 2008’s Dial M are subtle, mostly in the sound of Martin’s voice, which is a little deeper and less bathed in reverb than in the past. It’s a little disconcerting at first to hear him sounding manly and high in the mix, but he can pull it off easily. The voice fits well with the slight country-rock influence heard in songs like “Truckers Son” and the almost boogying rocker “C.M.A.R.," which needs a bit of a sneer to succeed. While the bulk of the album stays firmly in the midtempo ballad mode, the handful of songs that bump the energy level a little (like the chiming “I Had a Song for the Ages” and the almost jaunty “Kick the Can”) help break up the melancholy some. So does the almost danceable “Time Machine,” which has the album’s best chorus and features Martin crooning like a less worldly Stephin Merritt. Fans of the band know by now that you don’t come looking to SF59 for thrills, you come looking for a warm and welcoming embrace. The Changing of the Guard is exactly the kind of sonic comfort food that the band has been cooking up lately, and even if it doesn’t improve on recent efforts, there are no signs of wear either.