Half a decade is a sizeable chunk of time, and in the music business, it's nearly forever. For Seattle band The Stares, it's taken five years to follow up their debut record, Spine to Sea (2005), with sophomore outing, Meridians. Following the trajectory of The Stares is like watching glaciers recede; that is, things move slowly. As with any long-term relationship, life happens: band members came together, toured in a sweet R.V., played in other bands, fell out of bands, went back to school, changed careers, fought, had gear fall out of the back of a minivan while driving (twice), and married, though not necessarily in that order. For The Stares, Meridians became a labor of love, not so much in the recording of it, but in the follow-up, releasing the record to the world. Embracing the brave new world of self-release, the band is finally making some headway. Documenting the artistic growth of the entire Stares creative family, Meridians was recorded in spring 2006 at Studio Litho and Aleph Studios by the same production team that worked on Spine to Sea, including engineers Randall Dunn and Mell Dettmer (Earth, Sunno))), Boris, Secret Chiefs 3, Sun City Girls, Kinski), and string and horn arranger extraordinaire Eyvind Kang (Blonde Redhead, Bill Frisell, Laurie Anderson, Mr. Bungle, Laura Veirs). Mixing ensued at London Bridge Studio at the tail end of 2006, with a 1973 Neve 8048 mixing board adding the perfect amount of warmth and dust. Yes, The Stares love the vintage gear. The ten tracks on Meridians gestated for some time before the band laid down basic tracks onto 2-inch tape. Benintendi (voice, piano, keys) and Whittemore (voice, guitars) still head up the business of songs, writing all compositions and lyric content before introductions to the rest of the band. The two leads sing on each other's contributions more, often creating a unified voice, breaking down obvious notions of which songwriter is responsible for which tune. The dead-on rhythm section is still helmed by Jason Merculief (Sera Cahoone, J. Tillman) on drums and Don McGreevy (Earth, Master Musicians of Bukkake) on bass and percussion. Resident live player Bill Patton (pedal steel, guitar) was brought into the fold, as was an auxiliary cast of Seattle musicians to round out Eyvind Kang's tasteful string and woodwind arrangements. There is an evolution afoot, as Meridians is steeped with confident economy and poignancy. Compared to songs on Spine to Sea, tempos of some songs have quickened, compositions have compressed into songs with shorter lengths, and while the spacious terrain has a dreamlike quality similar to The Stares' debut, immediacy and focus are taking a shine. Meridians is a record for listeners who value strong songwriting, quality recording, the melding of simple and complex composition, dynamic melodicism, clarity of voice, and a touch of ambiguity. Feel free to chew on this for a while; 2015 is half a decade away.