Birds & Batteries lands at Low Spirits
By Summer Olsson
Imagine you’re in one of those centrifuge rides at the state fair and the blaring theme music is some sort of ’70s rock. The cylinder spins faster and faster, pressing you against the wall and lifting your feet off the floor. On every rotation, as you whip past the speakers, your ears catch a blur of electric guitars. The centrifuge is also next to the funhouse, so high-pitched synth melodies, drum machine hits, and other electronic bleeps and blips swirl past you. Suspended next to you on the ride, your friend, who happens to have a lovely voice, is telling you loudly about a dream he had last night. Floating in space, enveloped in this musical blend, is what it’s like to listen to Birds & Batteries.
The band’s story begins in Boston with one man, multi-instrumentalist Michael Sempert, who wrote and recorded a demo album titled Nature vs. Nature. When he moved to San Francisco, he joined up with musicians Christopher Walsh, Jill Heinke and Brian Michelson. The group chose the best tracks from his demo and recorded them together, and the resulting hybrid became Birds & Batteries’ 2006 debut: Selections from Nature vs. Nature. It was simultaneously gritty and melodic, showing signs of what would become the band’s signature—an effortless mix of disparate elements.
As influences, Birds & Batteries’ list is eclectic—everyone from Steely Dan to Daft Punk is there. At times, familiar sounds of these and many other artists are detectable in the group’s work. The band followed up SFNVN with the 2007 full length I’ll Never Sleep Again, showing listeners a more electro-synthpop style. The first track is a slow-tempo cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” which is propelled by a deluge of keyboard samples but maintains the country vibe of the original. Birds & Batteries’ sound is complex, as distinctly ’70s guitar and brooding ’80s synth slide against modern electropop. Most of the songs on the album could be described as soundscapes with steady beats and lyrics, and the whole thing has an ethereal quality.
In 2009, the band released “Up To No Good,” a five-song EP that the band says features a loose narrative with a recurring character. The album has a darker tone but keeps the same portmanteau of genres found in previous albums, and the music is just as good for dancing as it is for daydreaming. The group is diligently touring the country promoting its next album, Panorama, scheduled for an early fall release. It’s a safe bet the new record will be just as strange and lovely as the others.
Birds & Batteries
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