Saturday 7 December 2013

The Incredible Flight Of Birdman - The Incredible Flight Of Birdman

Album review by

You'd be forgiven for wondering what had happened to Cambridge guitar-slingers The Incredible Flight Of Birdman. We'd been tipping them to supply us with a stream of fine tunes since 2009, but since then just two singles have appeared, and there's been barely a tweet since 'Fate With Amnesia' early in 2011. A split? A severe case of writer's block? Pure, unadulterated laziness? No, none of these are correct. Purely and simply, this puzzling phenomena we call life can twist and turn in odd directions, changing priorities and placing hurdles in your way. So while they may have had to put any major action on hold until now, the quartet return with this self-titled mini-album (they're trying to pass this off as an EP, but I'm overruling that; seven tracks is a mini-album where I come from). Despite the hiatus in releases, the band have kept themselves in check with gigs, writing time and rehearsals, ensuring that they return sharp, tight, and with a sackful of tunes.

With another couple of EPs in the pipeline, as well as a debut album proper, it sounds as though they're back for good too. Using a Kickstarter campaign to fund the record left the band surprised at just how far and wide that initial pair of singles reached, with contributions coming from Germany, Mexico, Belgium, the US and more. Proof, if it were needed, that The Incredible Flight Of Birdman don't make throwaway, disposable pop. Playing guitars, writing songs that fit broadly fit the "indie" category, smart, sometimes witty lyrics and having the natural vocal style that singer Nick Osbourne has, probably means that yet again people will suggest The Smiths as an influence. In truth, most guitar-pop bands probably owe a debt to that group, either directly or indirectly. There's certainly no attempt to emulate here though, and the voice is natural, not contrived. The Manchester icons wouldn't have made a song that sounds like brooding opener 'Hiding Out' either. Skulking about in the shadows as it opens proceedings, the steady build bursts forth into a strong chorus with some gritty guitar and an impassioned vocal. There are Vampire Weekend-style inflictions to the verses too, so the track breaks free from any definitive comparison and winds up being both impressive and individual.

"Reading futures in my cigarette, blowing smoke across your face, invading space, we think we're ugly but we're gorgeous too" runs the opening line of 'Ways Of Being Spatial', a song that throughout it's three-and-a-half minutes shows a wonderful lyrical dexterity, and a musicality to match it. They're masters of atmosphere here, throwing out this pensive, almost philosophical number that has hidden depths. If however, you just want a great tune to flood your ears then it does that too, providing further proof that The Incredible Flight Of Birdman', despite having little material actually released, have now been around long enough to sound like wise, elder statesmen of guitar music, and also the bringers of exemplary and irresistible pop tunes at the same time. Fuelled by the Lincolnshire Poacher cheese that was happily available close to the studio, the partial theme of the record was "whether to participate or not participate, whether to indulge desires or not", so while there may have been a game plan of sorts, it doesn't come at the expense of tunes. With a desire to mix things up somewhat, a couple of more stripped back tracks are included in the shape of 'Does It Feel Good?' and 'Dance With Everyone'. Usually the low point on records, this more acoustic (but certainly not approaching folk) style actually adds an intimacy that almost feels exposed, vulnerable even, and this is a pleasant surprise rather than a dip of any shape or form.

Should anyone be looking for music that genuinely could have come from the pens of Morrissey and Marr, then 'Never Mention It Again' is probably that song, yet that's not to discredit it whatsoever. Indeed, its fey jangle and traditional feel brings with it a familiarity that will supply newcomers to the group, or more casual music fans, with something more recognisable to get to grips with as an introduction, despite the fact that it's probably not the best song here. That said, it's still undeniably high quality. If you are looking for highlights, then a gentle nudge back to 'Hiding Out' provides one, and 'Talk To Id' is another. Once more they don't scrimp on the lyric front, and nor do they allow formula or any perceptible sense of routine creep in, plus the rumbling bassline deserves a thumbs up. Bowing out with the chiming 'On Your Skin', another intimate, soul-baring affair, powered by sharp and fabulously well though-out lyrics and another healthy dose of atmosphere, we're left in little doubt that The Incredible Flight Of Birdman have a rare talent and expertise in the field of guitar music. So we sincerely hope that the coming year will see more action and more publicity. There may not be the amount of hype here that we often see afforded to other bands who sell their souls to the London circuit for a page in NME or whatever, but if that level of hype was present, it would be thoroughly deserved.

The Incredible Flight Of Birdman's website

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