reviewed by Jack Derricourt
The name birdboy makes me think of the sensational 2014 movie Birdman. As I listened to the Toronto artist’s new offerings, I couldn’t help but envision the inner workings of a formerly famous celebrity’s descent into a modicum of madness; the soaring synths and pounding beats became the setting for my own flight over the city where I work and live, a meditation on the mind’s external voyage in the moments of partial dreaming. It’s just that soulful.
The album is called POLYBIUS I, and is the lead-up to another two releases coming this summer, so I’m told. While birdboy labels himself as paranoid analog nightmare pop made in an attic, I think things are a little sunnier in the construction of this six track gem. At times, the tracks hint at the loveliness of drum and bass — like warm honey being massaged into buzzing car speakers. The production is pure closeness: you feel yourself in the same jar as the artist, looking at the little world contained within, in all its vivid detail.
The analog synths make for great listening, and they really make up the meat of the recordings. With the beats kept minimal and any vocals muddied beyond comprehension, the melodies and drones plucked out of the synthesizer give the listener a tether to something solid within the tracks. The swivelling teardrops of notes on “Halftime” are accompanied by the airiest synth lines on the record, giving a sense of middling between worlds. On “Academia,” where a cacophony of babbling starts and ends the track (having really gone nowhere — academia — hehe), birdboy uses a stacking effect to complicate the melody, adding to the polyphony again and again, before breaking it all down, back to the field recordings of decadent conversation. These aren’t all the keen devices where the synth melody drives a unique idea, but you get the picture.
Along with the babbling voices on “Academia,” there is a sense of chaos present on the album. “2016” is filled with, rather ominously, with the sound of relayed imperatives from NASA and yelping seals, not the most relaxing of combinations. And intro track “Gateway” sounds like an ushering into a vast, fully featured cityscape; the echoing voices and the fast beat hit on something very rush-hour-urban, and not entirely in a pleasant way. There’s a lot of aural memory being manipulated by birdboy, and the associations gather a new music as they roll out.
The star of POLYBIUS I is “Goodnight.” Yes, it sounds sleepy, but also, surprisingly wakeful, as if suggesting the richness that exists behind our eyes as we rest. The muted tones and glitching tom beats lead a slow hymn at the end of something falling apart.
What comes of out machines doesn’t always sound mechanical, and birdboy has pulled off this particular magic trick quite well. The soundscapes on POLYBIUS I leave me wondering what the next venture for this Toronto artist will sound like.
Top Track: “Goodnight”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)