Review Summary: When I fly and look down/I'd swear that's not me
I’m going to be up front and say that I don’t feel qualified to place I Became Birds
into the broad context of 5th wave emo (the “emo revival revival”?). At this point in my life, my consumption of this music is much more disjointed and circumstantial than, say, back in 2014, when it seemed like I was finding or being pointed in the direction of a new genre classic every week. So other than knowing they’re from Florida, I can’t place Home is Where in the context of their contemporaries or explain who exactly is pushing them to sound the way they do.
But I’ve always thought emo is at its best when it’s removed from a “scene”, anyways. I remember nearing the end of my freshman year of college, sitting alone on my bed in my dorm room, my friends all out pledging fraternities while I played NBA 2K14 and listened, over and over again, to the Pitchfork Advance stream of The Hotelier’s lifechanging Home, Like NoPlace Is There
. I'm certain there was some genre meta-narrative at play with that band’s work at that time, but I definitely wasn’t attuned to it. My connection to the music was a fairly singular, highly personalized experience.
Although, I think, life circumstance and age prevents a record like I Became Birds
from feeling quite so vital now as it might have been to me back then, listening to it, I find myself being filled with that same old feeling of personal discovery, of a windowshade being pulled up and the sun beginning to stream in. The record’s sounds are innovative, but in a seemingly effortless way. There are moments of tremendous catharsis and somber introspection, but nothing (although it’s probably difficult to have this problem on a 17 minute album) overstays its welcome. Genre tropes are usefully deployed but placed in new contexts, like when the band bookends the basement-ready gang vocals and screaming fits of “Sewn Together from the Membrane of the Great Sea Cucumber” with an undulating intro and outro that recalls Feels
era Animal Collective. And sure, Dogleg might anchor a song with the same driving thrum as is found on “Assisted Harikari”, but they wouldn’t follow it up with the minimal, uneasy reflectiveness of the next song, closer “The Old Country”. And they’d certainly never dot their tracks with a harmonica.
I suspect, too, that when some kids out there hear Brandon Macdonald’s lyrics, perhaps years down the line, they will be moved in the same way they were when another generation of kids first heard Tim Kinsella’s work in Cap’n Jazz. Sure, Macdonald occasionally borrows too heavily from that school of absurdism (“alter boys curb stomp the mall Santa Claus/wearing high heels cuz the tv’s unplugged”), but their gift for turning the pedestrian into the arrestingly evocative is undeniable. Sweltering Florida summers are conveyed through “preservative sunshowers”, “digesting sunscreen”, and burning cops, and suburban mundanity manifests itself in “bong water transubstantiation” and the following request to a friend or a crush (another genre trope twisted into something wonderfully uncanny): “Hey, Samantha/let’s swallow all the lightbulbs in the living room”.
And there is no more or less to I Became Birds
than that, at least to me, right now. I am right here—the bed I’m lying on slightly bigger—playing poker online instead of video games. I still feel lonely a lot, but in different ways. I look out the window and the same sun is shining.