Review Summary: No longer a “side-project”, Birds Of Tokyo find their natural sound by building upon the soaring melodies & guitar-driven hooks of their debut, with greater atmospheric soundscapes and punchier vocals.
When a band member takes part in a side-project, one must wonder if the need to differentiate their sound from the original group weighs heavily on the mind. As much as Bird Of Tokyo’s debut album ‘Day One’ was an impressive release, one could not help but get the feeling that the Australian quartet held a little back – both musically and vocally – for fear of sounding too heavy and/or progressive… Too much like lead vocalist Ian Kenny’s other band; Karnivool.
Interestingly, both ‘Day One’ and Birds Of Tokyo’s 2nd full-length LP titled ‘Universes’, have been released before a follow-up from Karnivool. Is this simply due to the differing complexities of both band’s sound, or does it tellingly suggest that Kenny is now more comfortable than ever in his “side-project” due to a realization of what its natural sound is… A sound that has been mastered come album number two. ‘Universes’ sees Birds Of Tokyo take the soaring melodies and guitar-driven hooks of their debut and build upon them with greater atmospheric soundscapes and punchier vocals. Nowhere can that be seen more than on pseudo-opener ‘Broken Bones’.
Preceded by a 53 second instrumental piece which builds up anticipation effectively, this 2nd single begins with jangly guitars before getting down and dirty with a thick riff and driving rhythm section. Come the chorus, Kenny’s superb vocals are given a polished feel to them which, while terrific in isolation, also serves to emphasize his amazing pipes come the bridge, where he is backed by minimal music. It all leads to an involving and atmospheric climax which is thoroughly captivating.
The remainder of the first half of the album continues along not too dissimilar lines and will likely include all singles to be released from ‘Universes’. ‘Wild Eyed Boy’ reminds of the straight-forward mainstream approach taken from the debut LP, while the divisive ‘Head In My Hands’ is a poppy mid-tempo cut where Kenny confesses “I hate my melodies… They’re all the same”, before fittingly progressing to the harmonic line of “I can’t get ‘em out of my head”. The best of the bunch though is lead single ‘Silhouettic’, which takes the band to the next level by fusing a greater intensity in sound and vocals with enhanced production levels in order to emphasize it’s totally addictive and anthemic chorus.
Those concerned that ‘Universes’ would simply be a more polished version of ‘Day One’ need not worry however, as the second half of the album leans much more towards the experimental and progressive. Track 6 ‘White Witch’ effectively acts as a bridge between the two halves, before ‘Ode To Death’ mixes layered guitars with a quirky ominous-sounding vibe. The best cut contained on the latter portion of ‘Universes’ however is ‘Armour For Liars’. Everything builds up very well in this song as Kenny’s perfectly executed vocals combine sublimely with excellent lyrics and the haunting guitar-work of Adam Spark (who also produced the album).
The remaining three songs may then be the most hit and miss for listeners since they all tend to wander aimlessly at first, before slowly revealing themselves as strong cuts. This will mean that they are less immediate, yet will actually assist the longevity and lasting value of ‘Universes’. At over six minutes in length, ‘The Bakers Son’ stretches the formula the most, while ‘Train Wrecks’ doesn’t really hit its straps until the piano kick-starts its captivating final two minutes. Closer ‘Medicine’ is then effectively stacked with piano and strings to add to Kenny’s accomplished vocals.
With less than 18 months between releases, one gets the feeling that Birds Of Tokyo knew that they had the outline of a great sound on their debut release. It seems they also realized what was required in order to fill in that outline, as ‘Universes’ successfully tops its predecessor. It does this by including two standout tracks, as well as showcasing a darker and more experimental final half. All this leads to the band truly finding their natural sound which makes for one hell of an enjoyable listen. Make no mistake about it; Birds Of Tokyo are no longer a side-project!
Recommended Tracks: Silhouettic, Broken Bones, Wild Eyed Boy, Armour For Liars & Head In My Hands.