April 13, 2006

Bird Show "Lightning Ghost"

Bird Show is the solo project of Chicago musician Ben Vida, who is better known as a member of the band Town and Country. One of the most polarizing bands on the Thrill Jockey roster, Town and Country’s austere chamber rock dances around the line that separates the minimalist from the merely boring. If Bird Show’s music any indication, though, Vida is much better at keeping my interest when he goes it alone. The songs on Bird Show’s sophomore album Lightning Ghost are simple, but they’re arranged in such a way that the music never gets monotonous. Like the best home recordings, the nubbly textures and close-miked instruments generate an intimacy that draws you in, despite the flighty nature of the music.

Most of the songs on Lightning Ghost are constructed from a few basic ingredients: twinkling hand percussion, watery synthesizers, gently strummed guitars and Ben’s lackadaisical harmonies. His vocals often sound as if they were recorded five minutes after waking up: he doesn’t have the strongest sense of pitch, and he often slurs his words. Far from being a detractor, Ben’s voice is actually a perfect fit for the hazy music surrounding it. Instruments frequently fall in and out of sync with each other, giving the illusion that the music is being held together by centrifugal force.

Some songs, like “Pilz” and “First Path Through,” push the synthesizers to the front of the mix, allowing them to create metallic drones that recall Matthew Bower’s work with Sunroof! On other songs (“Seeds,” “Greet the Morning,” and “Sleepers Keep Sleeping”) Vida adds swooping violins and blaring bagpipes to the mix, which gives the music a vaguely Celtic feel. Vida isn’t afraid to flirt with extremes, either. The otherwise placid “Beautiful Spring” gets interrupted by a percussive cacophony that sounds like Vida whacking a bullhorn with a tambourine. The title track, on the other hand, spends its second half in near-silence, with burbling percussion just barely eking its way out of the speakers.

Whereas Bird Show's 2005 debut Green Inferno felt like a catchall for Ben’s diverse interests (folk, noise, drone, field recordings), Lightning Ghost has a singular identity. Its nine songs are cohesive and concise; all of them sound like products of the same mind, and none of them wear out their welcome. Although the acid-folk “New Weird America” scene is already overcrowded, I don’t see anything wrong with Vida’s decision to stake out his own place in it.

Label Website: www.kranky.net

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