Review – “Birdhaus” – Gold & Shadow

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reviewed by Chris Matei

Though what appears to be a six-track EP is only four – as the title tracks are barely interstitial flashes of sonic stitching – Nanaimo’s Gold & Shadow have produced another winner in Birdhaus, their follow-up release after  late 2015’s full-length Torch. That album was grand in scape, melodic as much as it was noisy and ebullient, post-rock meets artistic folk with a deeply ingrained feeling of West Coast  “placefulness” – and here, the band has focused on the bright, warm, heart-thumping emotional and uniquely location-inspired energies that thrived on Torch and fuelled some of that album’s best songwriting.

Birdhaus positively radiates from the get-go: “Dimension” is energetic, synthy and earnest, bumping bassline and clear, shimmering melodies working together to propel the song into something that isn’t quite a dance track or a ballad but something in between. The depth of sonic pleasures here – mostly shiny-bright pads and punchy drums introduced atop the band’s rich existing instrumentation – comes once again from the guidance of Tom Dobrzanski at Monarch Studios, who can by now boast a lengthy West Coast alternative and pop production resume, most if not all of which gleams with quality.

“Judges” starts off a bit staid, but, evolves quickly as lead vocalist Dane Letorneau reaches right up out of the speakers along with a wicked analog-driven crescendo into the song’s full arrangement. There’s a light-spattered disco drum pattern battering along behind Letorneau’s intricate vocals in the verses, giving way to sizzling bridge solos that get swallowed up in avalanches of delay just as they appear to hit maximum speed.

“Little Death” finds some of the EP’s most personal lyrics, rife with details, set against twinkling background guitars and subtle harmonies. The band skilfully merges organic alt-rock with the pulse and drive of synthesized sounds, without spreading themselves into a set of production compromises that would otherwise leave the tracks feeling overstuffed. Those synths quickly overtake “Little Death, smearing and morphing with a grand crash of drums into a breathtaking acceleration. I previously described Torch as “cinematic”, and here the light seems to bleed through the film, almost searing in its intensity.

After reaching its energetic peak with the fittingly named “Little Death,” Birdhaus closes out with the more reflective, downtempo ballad “Lifegiver.” Guest vocalist Camilla Arnold lends a sweet, light set of harmonies to the vocals here. Even though it’s the album’s come-down moment, Gold & Shadow can’t resist ending “Lifegiver” with another truly inspiring flourish, an orchestral sweep that feels as if it could carry listeners off to a faraway place as the final notes sound.

Once again proving their command of dynamic, emotive and spatially immersive composition, Gold and Shadow have followed Torch with a more focused and equally resonant set of songs: less stylistic experimentation takes place on Birdhaus than on its predecessor, but the resulting tracks feel polished and honed to a mirror sheen. If Birdhaus is an indication of more in this vein to come from this BC foursome, I would stay on keen alert.

Top Tracks: “Little Death,” “Lifegiver.”

Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*

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