band deserves to be discovered here in the states. The recent Pitchfork review should help with
that, but it is about two years late and these poor guys could have gotten
their treat a while ago if they had had the good fortune of being reviewed when
the album came out. I got the album
after seeing it somewhere – fakejazz, I think, but don’t hold me to it – and
immediately loved it. I also got their
previous release, Sunset Studies, which is good but not nearly as well wrought
and written. I don’t really have a
reference point to compare these guys to – and not because they are too far off
the map. One could draw lines between them
and any number of bands, but the fact is these guys are doing intelligent,
beautiful music which falls somewhere between rock, alternative, and folk. Perhaps there is a label for something like
this but it probably sounds like porn, as in “Adult Contemporary,” or is so
muddled as to be incomprehensible, as in “Post-alt-rock folkcore” or something.
The opening tracks are good but rather benign, hinting at the careful song and music writing, but while “The Vineyard,” “Little Wonder,” and “The Night is a Blackbird” please, they do not excite, and I can’t blame you for giving this CD to your mom after the first 15 minutes. Hang on a bit, though, and following a lengthy intro you get the crashing organ and crunchy distortion of “Song in the Key of Chance,” and you ask yourself if this is a mix CD and not an actual release – the sound is that different. This is where Augie March shines – the instrumentation is lavish and thick, but they control it masterfully and the production is superb. Little did you suspect they could lash out so. Following this is the playful and poetic “There’s Something At the Bottom of the Black Pool,” led by a warbling organ and rattling drums, with a voice flanged so heavily you can’t hear the words.
Here is as good a place as any to mention that the lyrics for these songs are excellent – rarely do I give care to things like this, but these songs are written like poems, and are accented, rhymed, and metered carefully to coincide with the beat and instruments. There is a sort of anachronistic, otherworldly feel to them, kind of like the Decemberists’ best songs, and it is absorbing and beautiful.
Sunset Studies had its epic (“Owen’s Lament,” get it) and Strange Bird does too. “Brundisium” is a beast of a song and one of my favorites of Augie March’s. The guitars are fiery and angry, the piano is pounded mercilessly, and the whole thing just reeks of craft, talent, and skill. A lot of tension is built up in this song, and released as well, and it works well as a pre-album-ender. “Sunstroke House” is this album’s “Heartbeat and Sails,” an affecting, quiet track led by a banjo or uke. God knows what this guy is singing about, but I’ve learned the lyrics by heart and sing them to myself when I walk around late at night. Finally, the album goes out on a somber note with “O Song,” which sounds a bit to me like Pink Floyd dipped in syrup.
I can’t stress enough that this is a fantastic album and, more than that, it’s an album for anybody. My mom and dad both like it, so do my friends (both normal and insane), and I’m betting you will too. I’m hoping that they find a large enough fan base here in the states to come and visit – and I’m looking desperately forward to their next release. If it’s even near as good as Strange Bird I’d pay retail for it.
Here's "There's Something At the Bottom of the Black Pool," by Augie March.