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Music Friday: Futurebirds

Futurebirds, half-bearded.
Futurebirds, half-bearded.
(Photo: David McClister)

One of the more delightful developments of the last few years in the politico-media blogosphere is economist Paul Krugman's decision that, advancing years be damned, he was going to get into that indie music the kids are listening to these days.

I am on Team Aging Hipster myself. I've always made a point of keeping up with new music, pretty obsessively. (Matter of fact, I've made a mix of the year's best music every year since 2000 — you can download them here.) I figure if Krugman can do music blogging, so can I.

So on occasional Fridays, I'm going to do a short post on a band I think deserves wider exposure. I have nothing against pop music (Carly Rae Jepsen's new album is genuinely great), but I'll generally focus on more obscure stuff.

Today's band hails, as so many great bands have, from Athens, Georgia. Futurebirds were formed in 2008; I discovered them in 2013 with the release of their second full-length, Baba Yaga, one of my favorite albums of that year — nay, of the past five years. (They also have two EPs.)

Last week saw the release of their third album, Hotel Parties, from Easy Sound Recording Co. Here's a track from it, to listen while you read:

Futurebirds might as well have been created in a laboratory to appeal to my particular nexus of tastes. Though it may not be obvious given my coastal-liberal-pacifist-commie sympathies, I am a Southerner, born and bred, and the band somehow evokes everything I miss about the South. It puts me in mind of driving down a semi-rural highway in the muggy heat, windows down, music cranked, barefoot, headed out to the river to ride inner tubes and drink cheap canned beer. (If you've ever had that particular experience, I can pretty much guarantee that you'll like this band.)

the futurebirds

Futurebirds, doing their best impression of guys I got high with in college. "You gonna pass that?"

(Futurebirdsmusic.com)

The music is a patchwork amalgam of influences, including: twangy Southern rock (they've opened for the Drive-By Truckers), reverb-soaked psychedelia reminiscent of early My Morning Jacket or fellow Athens residents Phosphorescent, soaring guitar solos à la Neil Young and Crazy Horse, rhythmic jangle from that other Athens band, REM, multi-part vocal harmonies (which every band ought to have, dammit), and, weaving through it all, lyrical slide guitar.

The idiosyncratic recipe is partially due to the fact that four of the five band members are songwriters and three of them are ostensibly frontmen, trading lead vocals. It shouldn't work, but somehow all those personalities and influences add up to a cohesive sound, though it allows for the occasional off-key or missed note. It's the guys-in-a-room-playing-live energy that I love.

The songs often sprawl past six minutes, with long, leisurely solos and instrumental passages, though Atlanta producer Drew Vandenberg (Of Montreal, Drive-By Truckers) has tightened them up a little on the new one (which makes me a little sad — I like the sloppy excess).

"It’s less washy and ethereal than Baba Yaga, a little more to the point, both sonically and lyrically," said Futurebirds’ Carter King. "We stripped away a lot of the instrumental excesses and reverb that we have tended to rely on in the past."

Hmph.

Sometimes the sound is driving and ragged, like "Serial Bowls." (This song has a classic fuck-it-let's-keep-jamming moment at 2:47.)

Sometimes it's got a druggy grandeur, like "Death Awaits." (I love the bass guitar in this song, especially the riff around 4:30.)

And sometimes it's poppy jangle, like "twentyseven."

Throughout there's a kind of melancholy, too, that hits my sweet spot, as in "Hotel Parties."

Futurebirds have toured relentlessly for years, and I can testify that they are an absolute blast to see live. You should catch them on tour if you can.

You can buy Hotel Parties here, Baba Yaga here, Hampton's Lullaby here, and the other EPs here.