his is where I’m supposed to say that Birdmonster plays really good, straight-up rock n’ roll. And that you should buy their record, put on your dancing shoes, and grab a beer. Critics usually hide behind descriptions like “straight up rock n’ roll” and “bar rock” when they have a hard time describing a band’s music. In this particular case, it’s because Birdmonster’s good ol’ rock is not very memorable. Or rather, I should say it is memorable, in that it reminds me of Modest Mouse. Or Tapes N’ Tapes. Except not as good.
I really wanted to like them—but there’s just not enough to grab onto on No Midnight. The first half of the album can be boiled down to the arresting “Balcony,” the story of a man jailed for robbing a small-town bank in an attempt to help a local woman avenge her husband’s death. Not much is explained beyond that, but the conviction that accompanies the explosive chorus assures you that the plot makes perfect sense. Plunged into icy cymbals and enveloping distortion, the lines, “From the balcony she said / She said, “I’m not yours, my friend / I’m not yours but I’m everything,” have a certain splashed-water, bracing effect. The title track, a cover of Modest Mouse covering Birdmonster, is an exercise in futility. The boot-stomping chorus sing-along during the last 25 seconds doesn’t even come close to defusing the unintentional comedy of the line “They called me in the night to the grave where I belong.” After “Of Mice,” “What’s With Your Brain,” and “All the Holes in the Walls,” I’m ready to write off the rest of No Midnight as Birdmonster continues to channel an inebriated Modest Mouse.
Then comes “Ice Age.” And “Ball of Yarn.” And “Spaceman.” And I realize it’s not time to give up on these guys quite yet. “Ice Age” is a three-minute exercise in contrast: control v. oblivion. The whispered verse, accompanied by loose guitar arpeggio musings and shadows of vocal harmony, warns of the “ice age, baby, you know it’s gonna be frightening / It’s the ice age, baby, and it’s coming down like lightning.” And then (a very non-denominational) God said, “Let there be drums.” And there were. And it was good. And then they EXPLODE. You know those moments in the club, when you wish you actually didn’t have a drink in your hand? When you want to throw your hands up and just go crazy? This is that moment. And then the brief brush with the sublime is brutally withdrawn, leaving you wanting so much more. “Ice Age” doesn’t belong on this album.
And neither does “Ball of Yarn.” In the eleventh hour of No Midnight, Birdmonster is finally giving their songwriting gift room to breathe. With toms and ringing dulcet tones from the guitars, “Ball of Yarn” starts out slowly, with a sense of patience and certainty that, like the Great Wheel of Progress, the song will inexorably turn to its glorious conclusion. It comes roughly three minutes later, when the group pounds out the final anthemic chorus with conviction, everyone singing/shouting, “and we were [c’mon!] better [c’mon!] off when we were holding on to something [c’mon!] like a bird made of yarn.” The epic scale of this finish is carried over into “Spaceman,” a seven-minute, two-outs, bottom-of-the-ninth moon shot, designed to win hearts and minds.
On the surface, “Spaceman” feels like the rollicking fodder of the first half of No Midnight. However, the rockabilly conveyance conceals a surprisingly heartfelt chord progression within. The difference between “Spaceman” and the first half of No Midnight is that Birdmonster follows the material to its rightful conclusion, continuing to develop it through tempo changes, pseudo-climactic declarations of past love and explosive guitar streams, despite the passing minutes, not content to stop until they reach musical Mecca. It’s a four-minute journey to get to the acoustic campfire sing-and-clap-along that wraps “Spaceman” and No Midnight, but the three minutes spent here are the most entertaining of the album, as everyone joins in, singing, “Pretty spacemen all in a row / Like the nights from long ago / Fighting battles up in the sky, in the sky / I love you too and goodbye.”
Now, I don’t know who decided to finish out this album with the three strongest tracks that Birdmonster has created to-date, but any curve you extrapolate from these three data points suggests great things from this band, and if they can deliver on this implied challenge at the end of No Midnight, it’ll make for an amazing follow-up. Fingers crossed.
Reviewed by: Jeff Shreve
Reviewed on: 2006-09-08