Birds And Beasts
12 Track, LP (2012, Birds Love Fighting)
Related: Grand Prismatic.
Grand Prismatic lay claim to an odd and unfashionable mingling of folk, country, rock and psych dreaminess. Though based in Melbourne, they feel like a band bred in isolation and well studied in influences timeless rather than timely. Grim murder ballads, ruffled guitar solos, plodding rock rhythms, off-balance lyrics and vocals untroubled with climbing charts of any description. Recorded in a community hall in northeast Victoria’s Rosewhite, Birds and Beasts is a meditative debut that at the same time has too many peculiarities to be entirely mellowing.
The title track opens things, appropriately, with bird calls and nature sounds. Then come brooding, lugubrious keys and soon the rest, casting out a sort of mystical glow that extends from the music and production (including mastering by Galaxie 500 guru Kramer) right through to Brendan Clarkson’s meandering, wise-beyond-his-years voice. It announces what to expect from the rest of the album, but only to a degree. Certainly it sets the unhurried tone.
The snappiest and most immediate song, ‘Bells Will Ring’, is also the least like the rest. It’s got confident call-and-response and some Camper Van Beethoven in it; in every way the obvious choice for a single. ‘Bail Up!’ is like a folk revival band stumbling into the long shadows of psych, while ‘The Forgotten Machine’ positions Clarkson like an eccentric old man and ‘Broad Daylight’ pairs outlaw themes with the kind of drowsy, chiming rock that Galaxie 500 always made so quietly special. That focus on the narrative returns in the murder ballad ‘Dying Days’, with other tracks distinguished by the casual bit of horn (‘Condemn This Factory’), spoken word (‘I Love Lucy’), pronounced acoustic guitar (‘Too Many Junkies For Jesus’) and half-awake vocal effects (‘Hallucinojenny’).
It’s not a record you’d call particularly focused, yet it’s all the more fascinating for it. The closing ‘Lay Down Yer Arms’ is as much a slow burn as the rest, gently petering out before we’ve really gotten a firm grasp of it. So goes all of this. In a time of songs and albums – and bands – you can figure out in the space of seconds, that’s refreshing.
by Doug Wallen