From the looks of them, the members of Birdmonster are slightly unlikely folk-heads. They are skinny and wear tight jeans. Their hair is disheveled perfection. But when the music starts, it is raw and heartfelt, sometimes twangy -- indie-folk tunes with grace.
With their new album From the Mountain to the Sea, Birdmonster offers a collection of characters that demonstrates their great grasp of melody and harmony. The songs, while not overly complicated, are carefully sculpted to produce a soothing balance.
One of the most distinct elements of the album (and the band in general) is Peter Arcuni's vocals, which mimic a Buddy Holly-type lightness and exude the necessary frontman confidence. The other members gracefully accompany, adding banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass-drum heavy percussion, respectively, with a dignified enthusiasm.
At their CD listening party a few weeks ago, the band broke their performance into two sections, acoustic and electric, which is telling. The album is nicely sprinkled with a good balance of each, and to break them up was almost a shame, but it ultimately worked in their favor. It showcased the different personality of each song in the context of his or her brothers and sisters, while also highlighting the difference between the two styles, setting them apart as the quiet, intelligent types and the rebellious punk rockers.
Tracing the lineage of these songs back to previous Birdmonster albums is quite fascinating -- this album takes a significant step away from loud indie rock and into softer, more sentimental folk realms. Perhaps that's just what happens when you, and your musical progeny, get older.
The family of songs fits nicely together, but there is one black sheep, "Heart of the Dead." It's a great song -- a poppy and modern salute to post-punk -- but it sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise smooth indie-folk album. Perhaps we can think of it as the adopted second cousin.
Upon hearing the tune "Born to be Your Man," it's evident that it will be the crowd favorite (the Marcia Brady of this particular sonic family). Beginning with a sprightly vocal line and lyrics that will make the teenage girls swoon, the song builds nicely, introducing poppy guitar licks and a few subtle but key vocal harmonies. It's sure to make the others a little jealous.
But there are many other tunes that hold their own, such as (in the acoustic family) "I Might Have Guessed," "Lost at Sea," and (from the electric family) "The Iditarod." It's a well-groomed bunch -- the mixing of the album prevents stark contrasts between songs from being too evident, and the instrument that stands out changes in each.