CD Review of Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future by The Bird & the Bee
The Bird & the Bee: Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future
Recommended if you like
Frou Frou, Jem, Sia
Label
Blue Note
The Bird & the Bee:
Ray Guns Are Not
Just the Future

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
nara George may have descended from rock royalty – her dad was Little Feat founder Lowell George – but this particular apple fell an orchard or two away from its tree: rather than attempting to build on Lowell’s brainy swamp-rock legacy, she’s cut a gentler, more indirect path, releasing a growing collection of precise, coolly humorous pop records, both on her own (2005’s All Rise) and in collaboration (last year’s An Invitation, recorded with bowtied arranger to the stars Van Dyke Parks). The Bird & the Bee falls into the latter category, coupling George with producer/multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin to create a machine-driven lounge-pop sound with oh-so-slight jazz overtones.

George and Kurstin earned positive notices for their 2006 self-titled debut, which arrived at precisely the right moment of the Starbucks-friendly music boomlet; although it didn’t spin off any major hits – and didn’t even crack Billboard’s Top 200 chart – it earned enough buzz from singles like "Again and Again" and "F*cking Boyfriend" to justify this full-length follow-up, which dials up the dance beats ever so slightly but otherwise presents a largely unchanged portrait of the duo.

Bird and the Bee

Which is fine, really; although George and Kurstin don’t produce songs that could rightly be called exciting, their work usually tends to be tasteful – in the very best sense of the word – and that’s certainly true of Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. If anything, it’s even more consistent than the debut, offering relatively equal portions of Bacharachian beauty ("My Love," "Baby," "Lifespan of a Fly"), goofy humor ("Polite Dance Song" and the David Lee Roth love letter "Diamond Dave"), and biting relationship commentary ("You’re a Cad" and the Wham!-nicking "Witch").

George’s vocals, as always, are solid without being showy; she has a pleasant tone that’s half smoke and half honey, similar to fellow bedroom-pop chanteuse Jem. Kurstin, for his part, continues to walk the line between tastefully lounge-y production and cheeky, tricked-out pop bonanzas – although much of Ray Guns is rather restrained, he does bust out with a couple of left turns, most notably "Love Letter to Japan," which shackles a dance beat to Far Eastern synth settings, a stuttering, addictive melody, and stacked background vocals. If a character on any of the CW’s series takes a trip to the Orient in the next couple of seasons, it’s a lock for the soundtrack.

How you feel about Ray Gun will depend almost entirely on your tolerance for latte pop – but that being said, the genre’s most successful artists have made an art of mussing the smooth beauty of their arrangements with just enough dissonant darkness, and the Bird & the Bee are less afraid of the dark than most. Brew up a mug of your favorite blend and enjoy.

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