A Lot Like Birds

No Place

Written by: TL on 21/12/2013 15:41:00

Sacramento sextet A Lot Like Bids have tried to deflect comparisons to Dance Gavin Dance ever since absorbing that band's former singer Kurt Travis in 2011 and while the unwary listener might see some similarities, you only have to be moderately attentive to sympathize, noticing that the two bands are vastly different beasts: If Dance Gavin Dance is the ADHD-afflicted schizophrenic on a sugar rush, then A Lot Like Birds is at most his remotely related cousin who's prone to deeper thoughtfulness, elongated streams of consciousness and tripping on substances all together more psychedelic.

In technical terms, A Lot Like Birds plays ridiculously complicated post-hardcore, laced with the madly progressive tendencies of a Mars Volta, the serene melodic climaxes of your garden variety post-rock band and with the "too close for comfort" spoken word of a heart on sleeve wave band like La Dispute. More so than that however, with their new album the band evolves the concept of an album to a level only rarely seen, guiding the listener through the structure of the house on the artwork that is "No Place", through "In Trances" and the "Connector" hallway, all the way up to the black "Kuroi Ledge", where each part or room is furnished with reflections of childhood memories and the disillusionment of growing up.

"I'd come in through the window" but "If the eyes are the window to the soul why do you only feel alive when they are closed?" screamer/speaker Cory Lockwood muses, as "In Trances" preludes the album with lullaby-ish chimes welcoming you to an Alice In Wonderland-ish dream or fantasy. Yet the lower rooms of the house quickly prove to be home to the more nightmare-ish, entropic side of the band, with eerie riffs and jagged, abrasive rhythms disrupting all attempts at making sense of the cryptic, furnace-lit basement of "No Nature", while the brief respite of "No Nurture" quickly turns into full on resentment of a neglecting father and the static of a television washes over Lockwood screaming "Father! The day you die I hope you die in a living room! I hope the irony does not let you laugh! I hope the life that flashes before your eyes is mine and it doesn't flash fast!"

After a trip to the bathroom to reflect and rinse in "Next To Ungodliness" the "Connector" then majestically leads into a section of the record that feels more consolidated and cinematic, where the desperate frustration starts to give way for crushing, inescapable realizations. Fans of La Dispute will remember the uncomfortable hopelessness of "King Park" when A Lot Like Birds starts the atmospheric spoken word of "Myth Of Lasting Sympathy" mercilessly voicing "you will never be the creature that you were when you were younger" before giving words to the romantic hopelessness for which the narration blames the memories in "No Place". Almost all traces of musicality drop away here, exposing Lockwood's lyrics and flow in a way that makes their stellar quality abundantly clear.

The emotional purge then turns in on itself in the bedroom of "Hand Over Mouth, Over And Over", eventually reminiscing painfully on top of the brilliant butterfly-flutter of guitar melodies, on the time when the damaged narrator inevitably hurt a lover beyond repair. - "And if I didn't love you then, I love you now, but it's easy to love something when there's pain in its eyes". The album then culminates in the almost symphonic cinematic piece "Kuroi Ledge", and hanging out over the balcony Kurt Travis comes forth from his supporting role to flex his melodic muscles while Lockwood howls "This is my favourite part! This is my favourite part" in what seems a meta-lyric here at the album's dizzying pinnacle.

The horrific, trumpet-infested attic of "Recluse" is the only stop left on the tour then, before "Shaking Of The Frame" takes a step away from the whole concept, and while the haunting, echoing tremolo sounds like it's exorcising every ghost and demon from between the walls of the structure, Lockwood just twists and turns, seemingly frustrated and dissatisfied with having revisited the contents of "No Place" to begin with, declaring that the only thing to do is to let the entire cathartic project go, however unresolved it may still appear to him.

Back in the world of reviewing, I tend to hate track-by-track reviews, and I tend to be wary of concept albums, because they often force songs out on tangents that aren't really very engaging to the listener, and if I force my skeptical side to come forward, I could sympathise with anyone suggesting that A Lot Like Bird are often too technical and intellectual for their own good, with wilder tracks like "No Nature" and "Recluse" appearing paramount among stretches where the music is crazy enough to be nigh on impenetrable. I could even hear the argument that the concept of "No Place" is a contrived attempt to distract listeners from the band's unwillingness to write music that's forthcoming in any simple way. But even looking at it that way however, I think the con is just too good. I am completely distracted, nay, dazzled - by the intricate cohesion of "No Place". In a world where extremely progressive musical endeavors often leave relateability distantly behind, A Lot Like Birds have not only put urgent, harrowing personal matters centre stage, they've also orchestrated them so artfully and simultaneously so honestly, that they keep compelling you to turn your ears upon music that's anything but easy to listen to. That's an achievement that makes the prior album "Conversation Piece" seem like a mere doodle and puts "No Place" in a whole other galaxy from other bands, in terms of the understanding of what an "album" is. In short, it's an absolutely amazing listen for those that enjoy records with a high difficulty setting.


Download: Kuroi Ledge; Hand Over Mouth, Over And Over; No Nurture; Myth Of Lasting Sympathy
For The Fans Of: The Mars Volta, La Dispute, Stolas, Hail The Sun
Listen: facebook.com/ALotLikeBirds

Release Date 29.10.2013
Equal Vision Records

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