Birds’ new album, Everything All At Once, rightly commands attention
It might sound contrived to someone who has yet to experience it themselves, but the idea that great music is capable of moving a listener spiritually and emotionally is a very real thing. On the right day, the first listen to a record can excite a listener, amaze them, inspire them, hook them and drag them to places that it’s possible they didn’t realize existed within themselves.
Calling that kind of an experience a religious one doesn’t quite do it justice because “religion” implies a desire for redemption from something, but the experience of a great new record that was here-to-fore unknown and unheard of to a fresh set of ears is capable of utterly and completely changing the perceived field of what that listener thought they knew or held to be true. It can be pretty awesome – particularly when nothing else seems the same after that first time through the album in question.
I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to experience a couple of those “perception altering” albums, but I listen to enough music that I know how rare and special events like that are. It is for that reason I can say Birds’ new album, Everything All At Once, rightly commands attention. In a time when the number of voices decrying the death of rock n’ roll has reached a new and staggering high, this album not only defies them all, it makes believers by walking a pretty spectacular walk too.
As soon as “See It All” stomps out and kicks the album’s A-side into gear, listeners will be perfectly transfixed by the sounds that Birds are making on Everything All At Once. Right off, the megalithic assault of singer/guitarist Duane Lauginiger, guitarist Jess Rees and bassist Jessica Reynoza recalls the yowling, spiraling indie-punk attack of Nirvana and The Pixies but, rather than dancing ’round that mass and trying to make it easier to digest as drummer David Lovering often did for The Pixies, drummer Tim Plunkett strips off the artifice and just rams it down listeners’ collective throat with a beat about as subtle as Dale Crover might produce with a really bad hangover.
In effect, what listeners get is a reasonably impolite invitation to come along with the band or just get the fuck out of their way – and what follows it is a presentation which straddles the thematic lines between caustic, dismissive, submissive and sweet rock tones. Throughout the track (which doesn’t soften even once during the song’s two-minute-forty-five-second duration) Lauginiger splits some pretty nihilistic sentiments (check out lines like “I don’t want to live forever and see it all come crashing down on me”) with an obvious desire to see what he’s doing through hopefully and against the odds (as lines like “Take another try – I didn’t see it this time” illustrate) regardless of how unstable the ground may feel beneath his feet, and succeeds with a bit of help from the sweet, warm back-up vocals supplied by bassist Jessica Reynoza.
After “See It All” sets that all-important first pole, the A-side continues by turning in a few directions which successfully illustrate a great sampling of what Birds are capable of. “Scatter” turns in an angry and sardonic face as the band keeps pushing at mid-tempo speed while the chord progression inspires defiant sneers and. With Reynoza staying off the mic, Lauginiger pushes his voice through his nose and appears pretty nihilistic again albeit in the name of getting confrontational this time (check out the themes of shadowy figures “coming for you” and nothing really mattering), while also sounding pretty epic with the synths employed in the background stepping up the levels of the urgency in the song.
“Get Away” immediately changes gears again after that and gets kind of indie in the same way The Stills used to, and then “I Can’t Wait” closes the side by touching on an old Flaming Lips tip to really drop some jaws at the end of the side. There, against a terrifying, wailing, minor key guitar performance, Lauginiger follows suit by sounding a bit defeated as he whines out lines like, “I can’t wait – it’s the last one in the way/ I put it down most every day” and really goes out of his way to sound as though he’s running through the motions.
Really, that sort of presentation wouldn’t normally welcome an audience at all – something about it sounds wounded and defeated – but there’s also a bleak majesty about it which can win listeners right before they’re ready to go ahead and give up, and will have them all joining in a great chorus when Lauginiger bleats the words, “We play forever” exhaustedly. It’s there that listeners will be held dearly and will watch dew-eyed as both the song and the side fade off into oblivion. It’s oddly beautiful and satisfying, in its own way, and will have listeners changing sides en masse, in the end.
After the bleak departure of “I Can’t Wait,” listeners may be at a loss as far as what they feel like they can expect on the flipside of Everything All At Once, but their spirits will be renewed just as the band’s are when “Falling” begins the album’s B-side. There, the warmth which was here-to-fore unknown in the running of the album’s A-side dominates every microtone as multi-tracked guitars softly stroke listeners and can inspire sighs of contentment while Duane Lauginiger sleepily speaks of waiting for something great to happen.
The irony, of course, is that the great thing the singer is waiting on is happening all around him as the song plays; here, Birds show a different, softer and tamer side of themselves which simply did not exist on the album’s A-side, and so shows another dimension of the group to listeners again. For those who are just becoming acquainted with the band, “Falling” illustrates that Birds are not just a one-trick entity; they’re capable of using a multitude of dynamics and make them work beautifully – not just effectively.
After “Falling” blows the minds of those listening, Birds just keep flying through the movements on the B-side of Everything All At Once. The second track on the side, “Home Home,” stands as about the most conventionally poppy document on the whole record as, in just a little more than three and a half minutes, Birds recompose themselves as a flawlessly appointed alt-pop band (like The Magnificent Bastards, maybe) and play their way through so truly and genuinely that even the most cynical critics may be left feeling the strings in their hearts played before “Everyday” manages to rock an indie ballad and then “Slow Time” beefs up the going to reproduce a Seventies-style AM radio-ready rocker in an effort to leave one last surprise for listeners and then see the side close.
Those readers who have followed all that will easily be able to understand how different the B-side is from the A- but, upon listening, they’ll also find just how well the two sides fit together; because of that, listeners easily have the option of playing just one side or the other, or they can choose to run through the whole thing and find satisfaction either way. After their first time through the album, they won’t much care how they make it through Everything All At Once anymore, just that they’re able to do it repeatedly, at their leisure. Listeners may take it side-by-side or track-by-track – they won’t really care, they’ll just want to take it again and again and spend as much time with it as they can. That, in a word, is devotion; and it’s unusual, but that’s the emotional response that Everything All At Once inspires – this album is just that good.
The Everything All At Once LP is out now. Buy it here, directly from Greenway Records.