Bye Bye Blackbirds is the kind of band that wears its influence on its sleeve without resorting to obvious mimicry. There are occasional moments when it might seem possible to identify the sources of their borrowed melodies and riffs, but usually there’s just a vague sense of familiarity; the feeling that you’ve heard something similar before somewhere. This isn’t a bad thing though, because these songs are catchy as can be, incorporating great guitar hooks and well-crafted melodies, with frequent use of mellifluous accompanying harmonies. These guys are obviously avid pop-music enthusiasts, borrowing equally from several decades of classics, from ’60s and ’70s staples such as the Byrds, Big Star, Badfinger, and the Only Ones to ’80s icons such as XTC, the Go-Betweens, and the C86 scene (not to mention the whole Creation Records family), along with some key ’90s (and beyond) indie rock heroes like The Elephant Six collective, Lilys, Spoon and Beachwood Sparks. The majority of these artists are themselves great pop-synthesists, and the love of form and craft is apparent in all their work, much as it is in Bye Bye Blackbirds’ take on the genre.
Maybe the ultimate comparison, however, could be found in Teenage Fanclub, the band who BBB most resemble at times and a group as versed in the classics as nearly anyone else out there. In fact, an early Teenage Fanclub T-shirt design sported the phrase “100% Recycled Music,” a self-effacing admission that they were just the next in a long line of many bands to offer up their own version of what had come before. I’ll bet that these guys feel much the same way about their music, secure in the knowledge that their originality shines through in their tunes, however “recycled” they might ultimately be. To be honest though, there is little here to suggest that this Oakland-based quartet will be getting sued for copyright infringement anytime soon. Some of their music might sound familiar to listeners, but that’s mostly because they know how to put a song together, linking the right intros, verses, bridges, choruses, and outros in ways that make each piece work as a whole.
That said, a couple of tunes on this 7 track, 28-minute CD really stand out. “Needle In A Haystack Girls” alternates between anthemic bursts of power-pop and mysterious, somewhat modal passages, ending with an all-too-brief psychedelic raga-like guitar solo which brings to mind the Rain Parade, the crown jewel of the Paisley Underground scene in the early 80’s. “How I Knew It Wasn’t Love” is a melancholy ballad with lilting vocal harmonies and the subtle but effective use of pedal steel guitar which lends the tune a touch of country-rock flavor. Luckily, it doesn’t sound forced or out of place, a testament to Bye Bye Blackbirds’ ability to pull off their own sound despite (or is it because of) their many influences. Another standout track, “Quiet Confusion” closes Honeymoon with a mid-tempo groove which swells up at times and breaks down to just acoustic guitar and harmony vocals at others, bringing out the pedal steel again at the end to blend with an understated guitar solo. In tandem, they carry the last minute of the tune (and the release itself) to a satisfying close.
Like several of their many influences, Bye Bye Blackbirds succeed because of their ability to write catchy songs and infuse them with enough dynamic twists and turns to keep it interesting for the listener. They seem to have a knack for their craft, and although the production here (by Bill Swan) is clean and warm enough, they would definitely benefit from a bigger production budget and a more diverse and adventurous sonic pallet, enabling them to flesh out their vision even further instrumentally.
Teenage Fanclub – Songs From Northern Britain
Lilys – Precollection
The Go-Betweens – The Friends of Rachel Worth
MP3: “In Every Season”