Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bird By Bird "Albatross" Review

* * 1/2

Bird By Bird are one of the most famous bands to emerge from the contingent of South-and-East Bay bands that includes Please Do Not Fight, Picture Atlantic, and Dizzy Balloon. Like those bands, BXB (as they are often abbreviated) plays a form of muscular power-pop laced with California sunniness. There is a sense of Dizzy Balloon theatricality to BXB’s music. There is a love of power and majesty on Albatross that brings to mind Picture Atlantic. And like Zen Zenith of Please Do Not Fight, BXB’s Jonathan Devoto is an excellent songwriter who focuses on the mindset of the world-weary middle-class everyman.

Devoto is a striking character. Formerly the guitarist for legendary pop-punk group The Matches, he has transformed into a grizzled elder statesman of the Rebirth. His music recalls his old band at their most subdued, perhaps even slowed down a bit more. As opposed to Match-in-chief Shawn Harris’ post-punk moan, Devoto possesses a smoky rasp that adds a late-night feel to the generally crisp and sparkling texture of the album. Whether he’s singing about violent revolutions or getting delirious like Prince, Devoto always sounds rough, a bit forlorn, and perhaps even gracefully aged (despite being only 25).

And the protagonist of Albatross’ songs is probably a twenty-something who spends much of his time scribbling down ideas and lyrics during 3 AM coffee runs. Two of five songs (not counting the bonus tracks, both promising acoustic demos) reference sleeplessness. And where there is sunshine, it is not the kind that keeps Katy Perry warm and tan on California’s beaches. It’s the kind of thin sunshine that permeates through the glass door of that vacation cabin your friends let you use that one summer. There’s no real mystery, but there’s something strangely alluring about it, and it brings subtle charm and a hint of sadness.

Yet despite Devoto’s skill with lyrics, the music itself is fairly middle-of-the-road. There is nothing remarkable about the crunchy power-rock backbeats--no experimentalism, nothing off-beat, nothing the listener would not expect. This an album where the central focus is on the words and the voice singing them. There’s nothing really wrong with Albatross--but aside from Devoto’s wordsmithing, there’s nothing too remarkable about it.

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