With their third full-length, Birds of Avalon have completed
the stylistic-aesthetic shift that had been bubbling around in their sonic stew
for the past few years. It’s a transformation that may have perplexed early
fans who latched onto them circa 2007’s Bazaar
Bazaar, a boatload of ‘70s-centric boogie par excellence; yet as anyone who
came up during that decade will tell you, there was more to the ‘70s than just
BOC and BTO, which of course is where 2009’s Uncanny Valley, with its Prog-tilting dissonance, and general
sci-fi vibe, came in.
Birds of Avalon telescopes in on the band’s core strengths, tautly-wound riffage powered by
precision rhythms, with sleek melodies and harmonic counterpoints (particularly
in the way the vocals are structured) galore. Elements of Prog remain – surging
keyboard fills are another of the band’s signatures – but it’s in no way
excessive, more towards the kosmiche end of psychedelia than any noodly notions that the term “Prog” might suggest.
It’s pop, actually, but with pizzazz.
For example, “Road to Oslo”
has a chiming/droning motif leavened by a gently arpeggiated (and at times,
backwards) riff that gradually gets spikier and heavier; improbably, the song
should appeal equally to fans of the Who, Pavement or Phish. The kinetic,
bouncy “Golden Nose,” similarly, has irresistible propulsion, a crucial swing
that subtly references the bands’ hard rock and garage roots, yet it’s densely
constructed and it builds to a furious, twinned-axe climax that’d wow the gear
geeks down at the local music store. A couple of instrumentals crop up in the
setlist as well (“Diggi
Palace” sounds like a
Bollywood soundtrack outtake), and the whole thing comes to a satisfyingly
anthemic close with the appropriately titled “Shadowy End.” It’s all framed in
a widescreen production, courtesy their regular studio maven Mitch Easter, who
knows a thing or two about how to craft a compelling complex tune from the
ground up without ever losing sight of its essential tunefulness.
NC, group clearly is marching to
a different drummer compared to many of its indie-rock peers on the Triangle
music scene. Yet by extracting bits and pieces from multiple genres and eras
and still managing to force a uniquely identifiable sound, these Birds
ultimately fly higher and farther than most of those peers.
Nose,” “Pim Pom,” “Shadowy End” FRED MILLS