CD Review of No Midnight by Birdmonster

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No Midnight
starstarstarstarno star Label: spinART
Released: 2006
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Birdmonster have a lot of fans and vocal supporters on the internets, and they frequently compare them to fellow blog-darlings Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. That comparison is, for lack of a better term, totally wack. While Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sound like a slightly more indie version of Arcade Fire or Modest Mouse, Birdmonster’s blues/country-tinged take on punk rock is much more reminiscent of the White Stripes, and may remind some of the criminally underheard Deadboy & the Elephantmen. Oh, and they are also a hell of a lot better than those overrated, hand-clapping hipsters, too.

On their debut, No Midnight, Birdmonster certainly demonstrate more emotion and power than that awkwardly-named group from New York. Birdmonster clearly embraces their San Francisco punk-roots but injects them with an almost down-home country feel, even sometimes employing cellos and banjos. This isn’t crazy psychobilly punk, though, where country and rockabilly tunes are sped to hardcore punk tempos and performed in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. In fact, it’s the other way around, with the punk rock sneaking its way into country and blues jams, retaining the power of punk rock and the emotion that the best country music had to offer.

Some songs show a country/blues influence more than others. The title track is almost entirely a banjo ballad, until the very end where it erupts into a punk rock explosion. “Cause You Can,” on the other hand, sounds more like Franz Ferdinand or the Strokes than anything you might hear out in the Appalachia. Even more surprising is that Birdmonster still manages to sound fresh and original even then, mainly because of the incredibly strong signing and songwriting of guitarist Peter Acumi.

Rawer than Jack White, but more melodic and accessible than fellow punk-blues rocker Dax Riggs from the aforementioned Deadboy & the Elephantmen, Acumi’s instantly recognizable voice is perfect for the kind of music Birdmonster seems intent on creating, one part punk, one part down-home country and one part pure pop.

Songs like “The Bar in the Back of the Basement” are really where Acumi shines. As his tortured voice bellows out “Where did you come from little girl?” he almost sounds like Leadbelly did when he bemoaned to his girl “Where did you sleep last night?” all those years ago. Then as he spits out the song’s title at a nearly incomprehensible tempo, the banjos and country-feeling of the song vanishes and is replaced with trashing guitars and the spirit of Leadbelly is suddenly replaced by the spirit of Frank Black. Yeah, Black may not be dead, but it fits my analogy, so shut up.

Birdmonster isn’t the first band to successfully combine the sensibilities of punk rock with the emotion of the blues. But they may be the first to throw in hoedown-like banjo jams into the mix. The indie scene is far too full of bands that, while musically talented, can be downright boring. Yeah, Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine and Xiu Xiu are fine, but you really can’t rock out to them, can you? High energy, catchy, and most importantly, fun, Birdmonster is for the indie rocker that wants the emphasis on the rock without losing any of the indie in the process.

~James B. Eldred