I’m convinced there’s a portal to outer space located in one of Chicago’s darkest, deepest corners. I can’t prove it, and my astrophysical theories are a bit fuzzy, to say the least, but I can’t think of any better explanation for the abundance of off-the-wall, experimental pop to have been born within the Windy City. From Califone’s space blues to Tortoise’s cut-and-paste, anything goes fusion, there’s a strong undercurrent of otherworldly sounds blowing between L-train stops. And were this hypothetical tear in the fabric of existence to actually exist in Chicago, as I presume it does, it would support my theory that Bird Names does not, in fact, come from Illinois, but from Mars.
Bird Names, who have quietly (though not literally) released a series of full-length albums in the past ten years, most certainly sound like some kind of wacky, alien rock band on their fifth album, Sings the Browns. They bang and clatter and hoot and howl, like Beefheart and Can and Os Mutantes shot through cannons into cockfighting matches. It’s bizarre and uproarious, disorienting and just plain out there. But my god, is it fantastic.
There’s a slightly detuned jangle to Bird Names’ melodies, a distorted and slightly off, but no less melodic sound that informs their fun, slightly tropical sounding junkyard jam sessions. “Nature’s Over” is, in essence, a simple garage rock song, and a fairly catchy one at that, with joyous vocal harmonies and a rhythm designed to provoke wriggling and writhing. “Live Longer Than We Want To” is a lo-fi gallop with uneasy keyboard wobbles and group chanting that come to clash in a delightfully dissonant manner. “Scandinavia” has a straightforward groove that comes to a brief halt as Bird Names’ members begin to bang on shit during the verses, but the scratchy, dizzy rock continues all the same. But it’s not all homemade fuzzboxes and yelping matches; “Oh, Narcotopic Fantasy” is dreamy and surreal with ambient flourishes, while “I Had a Girl” is a folky, Animal Collective-like ballad. And “People Should Get More Aware,” though certainly still bizarre and clamorous, has a catchy garage rock sensibility that’s easy to love.
It is entirely possible that Bird Names merely comprises five humans uninhibited by musical convention, but then again, maybe they really are from Mars. No matter the origin, they’re making some exciting, oddball music that, even with some recognizable influences, sounds very much unlike any pop music that any earthlings are capable of producing.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.