When your hopes are high and your goals are set you have either two possible outcomes, the first being absolute jaw-dropping failure or you can break Newton’s Law of Physic, jump out of the window and fly. Maybe this reviewer is heaping a bit too much hyperbolic praise but here goes anyway. Hailing from the heavily populated (both musically and individually) city of Sacramento, California, there lies a small, fairly unheard of musical collective that call themselves A Lot Like Birds. Now, I don’t know about you readers but this reviewer certainly had quite a laugh at the shear cheesiness of said band name, almost to the point where listening to this album seemed unnecessary, it surely had to be bad. But after procuring their album Plan B, needless to say I was a bit taken aback; I really had no idea what hit me. Let us begin:
I remember hearing/experiencing, for the first time, Circle Takes the Squares album, Undo the Roots. Quite honestly I thought it was an absolute mess of an album, it nearly took a full year to even begin to understand what had hit me. Yet something magical happened at that catalytic moment, that sudden realization that there is something truly special and beautiful to behold in every note and every screamed anecdote taken from that album. While it did not nearly take over a year to finally realize, I have come to the conclusion that Plan B has hit me in such a way that there is no denying there is something truly wonderful about this album. Stylistically, this group has unknowingly taken a giant leap and has somehow snagged the stars on their way up.
One thing that A Lot Like Birds relies heavily on and it felt on the very first track ‘Ted Bundy’s Thanksgiving Dinner’, is the mood setting atmosphere they create. Three members are dedicated to the general setting that is felt on Plan B, those members being rhythm guitarist Michael Franzino, violinist (yes, you heard me right) Athena Koumis and keyboardist Julil Ydell. Every song seems to ebb and flow, corrugating melodies leading into overtly dramatic climaxes that ebb down to mere single guitar chords that are soon brought up again, build up after build up. Every member of the band is used according to their skills and every musical instrument is utilized in such a way that the listener will have to simply pause the song and say to themselves ‘Can it really be this good?’. The Fall of Troy-esque ‘When the Wolf is Counting Sheep’ features spastic skramz style screaming coupled with on-again off-again guitar tapping that will surely cause a listener to consistently be eager as to where what direction they will go in next. The greatest treat of all comes at the end of said track where we are greeted by a sax solo reminiscent to Bomb the Music Industry! or even prog-rockers The Mars Volta.
Yet one does not create an album such as Plan B by merely biting off said bands and hope to create a true work of art. A Lot Like Birds are one of those bands that are not afraid to continually experiment from one song to the next and it results in many surprises throughout the entire album. Plan B can be respectively divided into two three parts, each separated by two filler tracks. The first part begins with the first three tracks and they are essentially a collection of musical ballads that take influence from most screamo, emo, and progressive bands such as Circle Takes the Square, The Fall of Troy and The Mars Volta. After a cleverly crafted instrumental, we are greeted to the second part of the album which features a dip into the extremes of both Saves the Day style of infectiously catchy pop-punk and the hardliner style of Thrices post-hardcore. After a final filler track, the final part is a dip into a mixture of all said genres and it is here where A Lot Like Birds shines. Combining spaz, catchy hooks and a very impressive display of fret work, songs like ‘How I Parted the Red Sea’ takes the listener on a musical journey through nearly all styles of rock and punk, from post-punk to freejazz, no limit is placed.
This album is absolutely essential for any lover of any of the genres mentioned. Enough dissonance to satisfy most Circle Takes the Square fans, enough guitar wankery to please any Fall of Troy fan and enough sugar to keep even the heaviest fan of Saves the Day satiated. A Lot Like Birds have only one struggle that is keeping this from becoming a near masterpiece and that is being the samples that nearly start off every track. They seem completely unnecessary and, combined with the fairly off putting band name, doesn’t help them be taken seriously. But this problem is easily ignored and fairly contrite when compared the shear genius that is Plan B. For an album such as this, it had two ways to go, up or down; well… just give this a listen and see for yourself just what direction they went. I’ll tell you right now, it’s fairly obvious. Bravo.