Dreamy song with with an intriguing sonic palette, elusive roots, lovely melodies, and an uncanny arrangement.
Last week I featured a song from the band Time Travelers, and noted its resemblance to music made by Fleet Foxes. This week, at the risk of redundancy, I offer up a song from the band Poor Moon and will likewise note its resemblance to music made by Fleet Foxes, with this additional footnote: Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott, two of the four gentlemen in Poor Moon, are themselves also in Fleet Foxes. So that explains that.
This is not Fleet Foxes 2.0, however. “Birds” is a dreamy song with with an intriguing sonic palette, elusive roots, lovely melodies, and an uncanny arrangement. There is something vaguely Mexican, or at least faux-Mexican, in the air here, both in the rhythm and the instrumentation, but that is merely an entry point into this music, not the end point. Sounds are used with great care, in particular those emanating from the marimba and the rest of the sensitive, idiosyncratic percussion section (tiny example: the random, exquisitely timed marimba note struck at 2:29). Chord progressions are lovingly crafted—don’t miss the heavenly, Brian Wilson-y end of the introduction (0:27-0:32), and the chorus’s lovely series of shifts (1:35-2:01, but check out 1:49 in particular). The group harmonies surely bring FF to mind, but Wargo’s lead vocal has a casual, dusky quality that blends beautifully with the warm, clackety arrangement. This is a winner that keeps on growing with repeated listens.
Wargo and Wescott have long been friends and musical associates; prior to Fleet Foxes, they played together in the bands Pedro the Lion and Crystal Skulls. The other two members are brothers Ian and Peter Murray, who otherwise play in a band called The Christmas Cards. “Birds” is the tenth of ten tracks on the band’s debut full-length release, self-titled, which will be out next week on Sub Pop Records. MP3 via Sub Pop. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the head’s up.
It’s okay if this sounds somewhat like the Fleet Foxes. Still a really good song.
Already the silvery vibe and agile beat bring to mind a Fleet Foxes song, and then Edward Sturtevant opens his mouth and Robin Pecknold all but tumbles out. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. A band sounding like another band is no sin. First of all, removing ourselves from the bubble of musical over-exposure, a lot of the time, what seems an obvious resemblance to us may not register on other ears. Second, and more important, the only thing that need offend the ears, as far as I’m concerned, is a bad song; good songs, on the contrary, are entirely welcome in whatever guise they choose to arrive. “Minnow” is a wonderful song.
At the root of it is one of those juxtapositions that pop songs can, when they want to, manage so well. The often-discussed pop-song juxtaposition is happy music with sad lyrics, but there are other, subtler ways to juxtapose countervailing moods. In “Minnow” we get a brisk 4/4 beat paired with a mild, bittersweet demeanor—a gentle-but-fast amalgam that creates a distinctive sense of urgency, an urgency that gives itself up to you rather than pushes itself onto you, if that makes sense. And within the consistent, fast-moving framework, the song offers us two differentiated approaches to the beat: the expansive verse, with a swaying feel fostered by an accentuated third beat; and the seemingly faster-moving (but not) chorus, with its double-time rhythm section. Through it all, Sturtevant is almost disconcertingly affecting; he sings with an ache but entirely without the histrionics that generally plague 21st-century American vocalists whenever they try to emote (thank you, yet again, “American Idol”). He is assisted by an able-bodied melody that is at once assertive and evasive, with lines that begin emphatically but end, often, by veering away from resolution.
Time Travelers formed while the foursome were sophomores at Bates College in 2008. They moved (where else?) to Brooklyn, last year. “Minnow” is a song from Vacationland, the band’s second EP, which was released at the beginning of this year but only recently brought to my attention. You can listen to it and/or buy it (for a price of your choosing) via Bandcamp. Thanks to the band for the MP3.
photo credit: Liz Rowley