Growing up in Southern California, I never really experienced the joys of a simple fireplace. The raw and blistering heat, the natural aromas, the pops and crackles and the delicate dance of the licking flames all were lost to me until I was able to move to a region of the country that hosted the changing of the seasons. I can, however, speak to the wonders of sheets fresh from the dryer. The sheets, still retaining the intense heat from the tumbler (and really, it’s got to be a gas dryer), gave me some of the same pleasures. The sounds, feels and smells are looked forward to every chilly night in which I do the laundry. Just like the fire on a cold and snowy winter’s evening, those fresh sheets provided two things that I find to be some of the best things in life, warmth and comfort. It is just that type of warmth and comfort that I found, yet wasn’t expecting, from the Los Angeles band, Foreign Born.
On the Wing Now, the band’s first full-length album after a pair of EP’s, opens with “Union Hall,” a song that envelops you in its lush harmonies, varied yet sparse instrumentation and Matt Popieluch’s strained yet enticing vocal delivery. By the middle of the song, the Arcade Fire like background vocals and Interpol-esque staccato guitars give way to a bombastic U2 arena stomper before settling back in to finish on a quieter note. Foreign Born, who I believe are not actually resident aliens, manage to combine all of these disparate elements into not only a cohesive track, but one that emanates warmth, like a great Beach Boys song or your favorite Sunday morning CD. But that’s not all Foreign Born has to offer.
Even more disparate elements are brought together in “Trial Wall.” Many listeners are noting, correctly, that if Jesus & Mary Chain picked up where our precious Echo & the Bunnymen left off, then maybe Foreign Born are picking up where the Chain came to an end. Of course, they are missing the key element, an ampersand. The caveat of the song is: they do it so damn well it’s easy to forgive the blatant idolizing. The lyrics in the song seem to splice both Bowie and Modest Mouse together as the chorus rings, “we’ve got five years to float on by.” Bowie is recalled again as the song’s drama escalates a la “Heroes,” especially with lyric snippets such as `by the wall.’ Guitars jangle warmly along to one of the better rhythm sections in the indie game today.
Songs like “It Wasn’t Said to Ask” truly evoke Echo, with Popieluch’s voice even making the same theatrical inflections as Ian McCulloch’s as Lewis Pesacov seems to have stolen Will Sergeant’s guitar. By the time “Don’t Take Back Your Time” rolls around, Popieluch’s voice is such an amalgam of McCulloch and Jim Reid that you almost forget it’s somewhat of an affectation, considering how different he sounds in “Union Hall.” Besides some of the above-mentioned songs, some of the best tracks appear toward the end of the album in both “Keep It All Inside” and “In the Shape.” True, both are still echoes of Echo and another link in the JAMC chain, but are incredibly captivating songs. The former contains a wall of guitar noise to make the Reid’s blush and the latter an early U2 feel that surely gives it an edge. (Groan) Alright, enough with the puns.
“Never Wrong” closes out the album, sounding like an updated “April Skies” or “All My Life.” It may be easy for some to dismiss Foreign Born as merely an homage band, but that would be selling them short. Back in the mid to late ’80s, bands just like this one used to fill my eardrums with sonic warmth. Music changed for me in that period. It turned from something to be dismissed in the background or enjoyed on a surface level to something that actually changed my life. Up until that point, I never knew that music had such a power. Foreign Born reminds me of that power and the warmth that a great band can make me feel. Of course, screaming this from the rooftops would just make me sound like William Shatner in that memorable episode of The Twilight Zone. “Do you want to hear something alarming? It’s On the Wing Now! Look at it, people! Listen! It’s On the Wing Now!” And in this day and age, that’d just get me in tight with Homeland Security, and that’s a warmth I just don’t need. I’ll just let this review speak for me.