Album Review: Birds & Batteries’ “Panorama”
When San Francisco’s Birds & Batteries offered up their bouncy five song EP “Up to No Good” in 2009, it came off like a snap-hook deviation from the electro indie country sound they’d introduced in 2007 with “I’ll Never Sleep Again.” It seemed that, while both releases had their own flavorful yet dissociated appeal, the group may have been experiencing a bit of an identity crisis, cold-shouldering their uniquely synth-tinged Americana and indie rock ways for a backwoods romp through some shady electric funk and beat-heavy digital doozeys.
What we were seeing was merely two different facets of the band’s multi-layered persona, and “Panorama” is the intriguing and alluring sonic reconciliation.
For a prime example of what we’re talking about, look no further than “The Villain,” which appears on “Panorama” as the kind of dense, compulsive pop tune with an enlivening hook that will shift your lazy autumn Sunday afternoon into gear while you start to recover from all those Jager bombs, whereas the version of the song that appeared on “Up to No Good” was part of the soundtrack to the night before at the local dive/dance club when ordering that fourth round still seemed like a good idea.
While “Panorama” offers only nine tracks and clocks in at a tidy 41 minutes, it is the most complete and expressive offering to date from a band that now makes wrapping one’s head around their unique concept of indie pop a much less challenging matter (but it’s still no paint-by-numbers). The title track opens the album with a bit of an aimless frolic of digital meanderings, but quickly finds it’s footing with the absurdly catchy “A Million People” and its gritty open highway guitar riff; the kind of thing Jeff Tweedy might write fresh out of rehab.
The seemingly effortless emotional drizzle of front man Mike Sempert’s calmly melodic vocals makes shiny, pop embroidered tunes like “Raincheck” and “Strange Kind of Mirror” flutter with downpours of sensory rain showers, while he relies heavily on his ample cast of supporting players who pour in warm and enlightening guitar hooks, frisky bass lines and crafty digital effects.
“Another Inferno” makes you want to uncork a bottle of zin, jump in the car, roll the windows down, smash the screen on the GPS and pray you end up getting lost somewhere that will force you to call in sick to work the next day, and “Some Hypnotic Flash” is, well, just what the title promises – you’ll be compelled to rewind the last 90 seconds of epic, guitar-driven thunder about a half dozen times. “Panorama” is the kind of sonic jigsaw puzzle that might end up coming out completely different every time you sit down to put it together.
Birds & Batteries performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, October 8 at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, 129 E St. in Davis., with Man/Miracle and Rachel Fannan of Sleepy Sun opening. The show is 21 and older, and cover is $5.
The show is one of the last half dozen for the 2010 season of concerts on Sophia’s very cozy outdoor patio. Other highlights include local Americana upstarts Not an Airplane opening for Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside on Oct. 14, and the season finale with Bay Area indie rockers Geographer and Sacramento’s Sister Crayon on Oct. 16.