Review Summary: Birds Of Tokyo can now be added to the list of side-projects which have yielded impressive results. Addictive hooks are married to creative soundscapes to result in a superior batch of accessible songs.
Nowadays, it almost seems that any lead vocalist of a band is in the minority if they do not have a side project. The likes of Dustin Kensrue (Thrice) & Dallas Green (Alexisonfire) prefer theirs of the solo kind, while Slipknot’s Corey Taylor is an example of the alternative approach of fronting a separate band (Stone Sour) whose sound differs from the original outfit. While the fashionable trend could potentially lead to disaster, it has often resulted in unexpected success.
The movement has now reached Australia with Karnivool’s Ian Kenny fronting a 2nd band; Birds Of Tokyo. In Kenny’s own words “there was never any interest to form a band” when Perth guitarist Adam Spark approached him to simply record some vocals for a few instrumentals he had written. Yet, that is exactly how Birds Of Tokyo were born and while some earlier demos contained hints of Karnivool’s prog-rock heaviness, by the time debut album ‘Day One’ had come around, Birds Of Tokyo were very much a separate entity.
The revelation here comes in the fact that Kenny’s voice is actually more suited to the comparatively toned down sound of his newer outfit. Distinctive and original, his vocal technique provides a fresh ingredient to what is essentially guitar-driven alternative rock with a mainstream tilt. This is clear from the beginning of this debut full-length release as Kenny’s falsetto-like voice is the very first thing you hear before an instrument even appears on the opening track. Laying down a blueprint for the remainder of the album, 2nd single ‘Black Sheets’ contains impressive melodies and soaring hooks.
There is simply no let up on ‘Day One’ with pretty much every cut worthy of being released individually. Chosen as the lead single, ‘Off Kilter’ follows the opener and efficiently squeezes a hell of a lot into its meager 2:33 duration. Building up brilliantly as it progresses, excellent dynamics and structure are combined with an amazing pop sensibility to provide the album highlight. And therein lies Birds Of Tokyo’s model to success as addictive hooks are married to creative soundscapes to result in a superior batch of accessible songs. Look no further than ‘Get Out’, which appears simplistic on the surface, but is rather complex deep down.
Similarly to American band Anberlin, it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes Birds Of Tokyo so much better than the mainstream rock pack. Yet, the one-two punch of ‘Violet’ and 3rd single ‘Wayside’ goes part of the way to uncovering the secret. The former approaches pop-rock balladry - both in its pace and repetitive lovey-dovey lyrics - however it is executed with such panache and expertise that it ends up as one of Day One’s standouts. Meanwhile, on ‘Wayside’, Kenny effortlessly slides between smooth harmonies and a more intense (almost aggressive) delivery, which details how much of a talent he is.
Of course, ‘Day One’ is by no means perfect either. That intense – more authoritative – side of the band could have been used a little more frequently elsewhere, with it only really coming to significant fruition on ‘Eduardo’. Lyrically speaking, there is also some room for improvement as Kenny too often becomes repetitive, while there is never really anything too outstanding to make you stop and take notice. The best lyrical content of the album is probably the biting and sardonic ‘Desperate’, which is another energetic and involving cut.
While Kenny often slips into falsetto not too dissimilarly to Muse’s Matt Bellamy, his backing group do not share the guitar and space-rock histrionics of the Brits. In truth, listeners looking for musical technicality could initially be disappointed here as the intricacies of especially the guitar lines reveal themselves down the track. Everything is especially solid though and the instrumentation practically always fits the particular track very well. The most divisive piece is likely to be the slickly produced penultimate cut ‘Rest Here My Brother’, which attempts something verging on epic as it effectively switches pace between slower strings-filled sections and rockier up-tempo passages.
On the back of the quality of ‘Day One’, we can now add Birds Of Tokyo to the list of side-projects which have yielded impressive results. Consistency is particularly a strength of this debut since all songs play their role both individually and as a group. Even when an aforementioned flaw works its way into a track, it is usually for a reason and the relevant cut will still have you listening to it over and over. There is simply no denying the impressive hooks and melodies on offer here, especially when it comes to the talented voice of Ian Kenny. It is just hoped that Birds Of Tokyo do not fall too in-between demographics; Not heavy enough for rockers and not poppy enough for the mainstream crowd.
Recommended Tracks: Off Kilter, Violet, Wayside & Black Sheets.