A Lot Like Birds

Conversation Piece

Written by: TL on 12/11/2011 18:26:18

It almost seems an insult to kick off an article about Sacramento sixtet A Lot Like Birds by mentioning fellow Californians Dance Gavin Dance, but truth be told, the main reason their new album "Conversation Piece" has been among my most expected of the year, came when the already intriguing outfit picked up singer Kurt Travis, after he was dropped from Dance Gavin Dance in favour of the man he had initially replaced there, namely the (in)famous Jonny Craig. That change had me facepalming immensely at the time, and with Dance Gavin Dance currently in shambles, I feel almost prophetic having already then started looking more forward to new ALLB material than I did to DGD's "Downtown Battle Mountain II".

By now, "Conversation Piece" has been out for about a month, and the content it offers makes it both right and wrong to still talk about DGD and ALLB in the same context. On one hand, both bands are in the post-hardcore business of mixing up songs full of both captivating melody and reckless destruction - On the other, where Dance Gavin Dance interrupt brazen, funky, almost r'n'b inspired parts with short, frenzied bursts of energy, A Lot Like Birds are more ambitious and multi-facetted in both areas, rather building brief, frail, cinematic post-rock-ish moments in between onslaughts of proper chaotic, bitter, jagged madness.

While this means the contrast between heavy and melodic parts is more sharply defined on "Conversation Piece", the record will still greet most listeners as an almost labyrinthine proposition, refusing to neither provide its hooks in any ordinarily predictable manner, nor provide any clues as to what's going on in the fragmented, introverted lyrics. Given a solid amount of listens however, a method to the madness seems to appear, as ALLB like to start songs out with a flurry of unpredictable riffs and screams (and even horns on "Vanity's Fair") to then gradually start constructing more sensible progressions around the mid-point of a song, eventually arriving at at minimum one knock-out climax per song.

En route from chaos to climax, the listener will be treated to dizzying amounts of virtous musicianship. The guitar riffs range from frantic funk alá The Fall Of Troy, over ambient post-rock qualities alá Moving Mountains, to sinister, merciless beatings that, when combined with the use of passionate, rhythmic spoken word, sounds a bit like La Dispute. Meanwhile, the drumming is incredibly spirited and nuanced, often substituting a 'traditional' approach for exhilarating latin rhythms in the veins of The Mars Volta or Closure In Moscow. And then there's the singing, half of which is provided by the severely underappreciated Travis, who weaves captivating, thoughtful melodies with a high voice that sounds like the exact midpoint between Jonny Craig and Circa Survive's Anthony Green - Probably the best possibly references one can get singing in this genre. What's surprising however, is how great the harsh vocals also are, courtesy of Cory Lockwood, who spits vitriol and frustration in a decadent, in-your-face manner that reminds equally of DGD screamer Jon Mess and La Dispute frontman Jordan Dreyer.

With such an ambitious album as this one however, there's almost always a question of whether a band tries too hard to push the envelope, neglecting memorable songwriting in the process. As hinted earlier, "Conversation Piece" can initially seem that way, but fortunately soon turns out to be the sort of record that reveals more and more quality with each subsequent listen. Especially on the first half of the album, things are utterly brilliant from track two, "Think Dirty Out Loud", to track five, "Truly Random Code" - the latter layering more and more atmosphere until breaking down into a brutally efficient riff at the end, and the former providing both a powerful clean vocal/melodic guitar combination dead in the middle of the song and an immediate attention-grabber in the form of some awesome drumming supporting Lockwood's manic chanting of "I've got a pocket full of dark - black - pickup lines.. that I want to spill, down the well of your throat!".

Come the center of the album, things calm down for a while on interlude "Abbr." and "The Blowtorch Is Applied To The Sugar", effectively installing the stretch of the album that is most likely to lose the listener's attention, but come the end of the latter, we're effectively sucked in again with another beating alá the one in "Truly Random" code. Truthfully, the four remaining tracks maybe aren't quite on par with the excellence of the opening salvo, but there's still plenty of goodness to listen for in the maddening frenzy of closing duo "Tantrum" and "What Didn't Kill Me Just Got Stronger", as well as "Sesame Street Is No Place For Me", which sounds so much like Closure In Moscow, you'd be forgiven for thinking that band had been given an entire track as guests on the record.

Summing things up, there's a whirlwind of things to be impressed with on this first ALLB venture featuring Kurt Travis, and if one is to conceive of a weakness, it would merely be that the wealth of good ideas is not necessarily being presented to the listener in a very sensible or forthcoming manner. "Conversation Piece" however, is the kind of record which forces you to ask yourself if it had really been a good thing if it had been dumbed down at all, or if its (somewhat pretentious?) sense of mystery is not also one the things that helps make it sound a bit otherworldly. It will have too much going on for you to really appreciate if you're doing anything else at all while listening, but then if you dedicate some time to letting yourself soak in the record, it will likely inspire you to destroy your furniture and strain your vocal chords letting yourself be caught up in it. So you might not be airing it at many social events, but when you go back to it yourself or go witness it played in concert, it seems to me this is the kind of material that will shake up what you expect from music on every encounter.

9

Download: Think Dirty Out Loud, Vanity's Fair, Properties Of Friction, Truly Random Code
For The Fans Of: Dance Gavin Dance, The Mars Volta, Circa Survive, The Fall Of Troy
Listen: facebook.com/ALotLikeBirds

Release Date 11.10.2011
Doghouse Records

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