Bird Names is a band that reminds me of two things: fruits, specifically drupes, and Rube Goldberg machines. Alright, that’s unhelpful. But I’m just reframing the usual stuff. You see, Bird Names is an excellent band, abnormally resonant among the grey masses of pleasure pop. Typically, I’ll queue up a new band’s recordings and I’ll hear instruments. I’ll hear the drum kick, the layered guitars. When I first heard Bird Names, I thought of a fruit bowl: bright, colorfully cacophonous and, at the heart, juicy sweet. In summary, I was, and yet remain, very excited about Bird Names. How neat, then, that Bird Names is coming to Ithaca — to precious little No Radio Records!
Let’s get concrete: to achieve their fruit bowl sound, Bird Names borrows from the circus ring of Y Pants, Half Japanese, Captain Beefheart, and Frank Zappa — all four packaged disparate, seemingly disjointed sonic elements into interlocking, well-oiled rhythms. With Beefheart, listening was more of an a-ha! experience; with Bird Names, the clamorous rhythms nearly stumble over each other. Let’s unlock this deeper — remember the Rube Goldberg reference. Goldberg cartooned those whirring, achingly complex machines that served the simplest of daily tasks. Bird Names hacks and distends simple pop tunes, reimagining them into lo-fi sing-alongs bloated and bettered by steely guitars, telephonic vox, bells, flutes and chimes. And out burps pop gems. You don’t need a marble to hit a flyswatter to trip a wire which flips an egg, but the process makes the whole system all the more interesting.
But don’t go dropping spoons expecting some nasty rhythms. You have to hone. You have to envision. Bird Names are pop visionaries, or, at least, high-strung explorers.
In 2008, Bird Names released Open Relationship without a blog murmur, let alone a print nod. It was their third album proper, but their first to be picked up by a label with any muscles (money) — Baltimore’s Wham City, home of much fruity, eccentric pop. You should find Open Relationship refreshing, if not downright inspired. Seconds, mere seconds into “Referents,” the opening track, guitars are fighting, voices are wooing, and sticks of all thicknesses are hammering out a repetitive beat. Bird Names smear all of their vocals on the track — much of the album’s lyrics are obscured by production values. However, when you can follow the lyrics of David Lineal, Bird Names prolific lead, you’ll find surprising depth: “Sad, so sad, that our poor old Dads, have brought to us, all we’ve ever had.” Such poetic nuggets are yelled, typically, in moving fashion. There’s a sort of frustrated tension between the music and the lyrics — thoughts about growing up, being an American kid, seeing a future you aren’t sure you want to be a part of. The music is very much born out of wild-eyed youthfulness, as was Animal Collective’s Sung Tungs, but the lyrics here suggest a realization that there’ll be a time when the spring ends. Aptly self-conscious, David refers to their music as “radical play,” a recapturing of friendship and innocence. Expectedly, the results are smiley raptures.
I imagine — since smiling, half-way to laughing, is contagious — that when prolific leading man David Lineal smiles out thoughts in his trying croon, the room must blush. This music is alive, cracks exposed — never aiming to be perfect, just to be truthful. I encourage you to try the Bird Names brand of play this Saturday.
Bird Names will be playing at No Radio Records (312 E. Seneca St., Ithaca) this Saturday, February 7th from nine P.M. onwards. Tickets are $5 at the door.