A Lot Like Birds - Conversation Piece
Record Label: Doghouse Records
Release Date: October 11th, 2011
For a relatively small band, A Lot Like Birds has definitely been generating buzz lately, and for good reason. With, now, two full lengths out, a recent signing to Doghouse Records, and a headliner under their belt, “hard working” and “ambitious” can safely be considered understatements when describing the progressive Sacramento band. But something is quite different about their newest full length, Conversation Piece. Quite different. In comparison, there are very few similarities between it and the band’s Plan B. The main difference? Vocal direction. In order to accomplish this, the group required an additional vocalist. During this time, in case you’re not up to speed (which I highly doubt), the ever deteriorating Dance Gavin Dance decided to part ways with Kurt Travis and return to previous vocalist Jonny Craig. Travis, thereafter, was up in the air and up for grabs, later to join none other than A Lot Like Birds. Armed now with drummer Joe Arrington, and the celebrated vocalist, Travis, the band entered into the studio with producer Kris Crummett (Dance Gavin Dance) to produce their sophomore album. What was the result? Let Conversation Piece speak for itself.
Where to begin? The first track, “Orange Time Machines Care” immediately begins with a bellowing yell from unclean vocalist Cory Lockwood as his screams burst out, like bold splashes of paint onto the musical canvas decorated by bouncy guitar. An interesting rhythm pattern sustained by the delayed and fluid guitar and bass highlights the writing style of the band; 7/8 time signature demands great precision and attention to detail, not to mention that the song also shifts into 4/4ths time. The transitions into spacious, reverb tinged sounds suit the music well, providing reprieve and moments in which Kurt Travis can express his distinct vocal styling. Then the song plays tag team between Travis and Lockwood, a structure repeated throughout the album with few exceptions. The spoken (or yelled?) word melodies flow on point with the kick provided again by Arrington. As a starter, the song develops the contrast between an ambient, smooth soundscape and the thick, vigorous pulsation that tug back and forth consistently throughout the album. This key factor is what makes Conversation Piece interesting and enjoyable.
The prime example? “THINK DIRTY OUT LOUD” is loud, schizophrenic and very lively. The song, as the title hints, is about sex and therefore would normally be cliché, but A Lot Like Birds do not follow that trend. Witty lyrics, thick bass tones, and massively frantic verses make this track the album’s sore thumb, in a good way. The band clearly demonstrates their faultless control and intrinsic ability to alternate between catchy choruses and heavy guitar licks that don’t fall into a generic trend that pervades the scene. Easily, one of the key tracks on the album, “THINK DIRTY OUT LOUD” showcases the fully engaged, energetic side of A Lot Like Birds. This continues to progress into the highly addictive track “Vanity’s Fair.” It follows the back and forth vocal exchange between Travis and Lockwood, but allows Travis to experiment more as he sings in unison with the bright trumpet part that soars in the chorus, while later restraining himself to a soft vocal pattern that helps end the song. As a whole, the song presents itself as an even blend of Dance Gavin Dance’s Self-Titled and Happiness. Again, the structure and mood flows into the next track, “Properties of Fiction.”
But there is more to A Lot Like Birds than just catchy verses and choruses. So much more. At the opposite end of the spectrum comes the perfectly placed “Truly Random Code.” The track has a moving and very atmospheric mood that can likened to Juturna and On Letting Go era of Circa Survive. Travis shines greatly as his signature vocals are stretched out gracefully to accent the hammer on guitar parts that evolve into tremolo and the disillusionment as expressed by Lockwood’s screams. Metaphorical lyrics are fantastic on the song with very crafty and a well constructed allusion that revolve around self reflection and maturing. The song climaxes and ends with a crisp guitar hook that concludes with a final “SOS!” This side of A Lot Like Birds is fully explored with the following tracks, showing musical complexity with the addition of various instruments in the introduction of “The Sugar Is Applied To The Blowtorch” and “A Satire of a Satire of a Satire is Tiring” which too features creative vocal sampling, keeping both interesting songs that quickly switch gears between serenity and chaos. Commotion is high for the remainder of the album. The last three tracks showcase some of the best guitar and bass work, highly indicated by the frantic verses of “Sesame Street Is No Place for Me,” the drop-A tuning, high speed, bubbly “Tantrum” and finally the vivacious album closer “What Didn’t Kill Me Just Got Stronger.”
As a whole, the album steals thunder from many recent releases, a fact that should be no surprise. A young group uniquely delves into a blend of stunning and frenzied melodies and develops a dynamic album, complete with impressive guitar riffs, commanding bass lines, complex drum work, and sophisticated vocal delivery. It is little wonder, then, that much word is being spread about A Lot Like Birds. With each listen, the album grows, allowing each part to shine, individually, on the bright album, and as a whole, amidst a generally dull genre. Give it a spin. Then give it a few more. You soon might find yourself talking about Conversation Piece.
That's my goal. I'm trying to keep them analytical and informative especially to help show what the record sounds like, not just what I think of it. I have a few in progress that are outside of the post hardcore realm that I plan to finish very soon. Thank you!
Really enjoyed this album. One of my favs for the year. Your review thoroughly described the great musicianship this band possesses. It does sound quite similar to S/T by DGD, but it's a dramatic step up from that. What were your opinions on that album buhbee?
ah man, you beat me to the punch. i was about halfway done with a review for this. but you made all the points i would have made with a no nonsense style. good stuff. and this takes a giant dump upon DTBMII easily and is a more inventive record than anything DGD have written.