Bird by Bird is the second musical project to form after the dissolution of The Matches, the pop/punk band from Oakland that basically broke up in 2009 with a fantastic "last show" at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
I've been a fan of the band for ten years or so, but this review won't serve as my "OMG I loved the Matches, so sad they're gone, etc" post. For that, read my review of ex-Matches singer Shawn Harris' new project Maniac here.
Bird by Bird, helmed by Jon Devoto, the quite skilled lead guitarist of the Matches, is much more along the lines of the Matches' music than Harris's Maniac project.
The songs on Albatross, BxB's debut EP, is a well-produced collection of of emotion, grit, Bruce Springsteen-ian melancholy, and some characteristically great guitar work from Devoto. Lead single Delirious opens with a very familiar guitar sound, the type Devoto used on many Matches songs, and it leads into a bouncy, melodic song about getting hopelessly "delirious around you". Its video, which was just released this week, features a lot of sweet street guitar-jamming in public places (a tactic the Matches liked to employ before/after shows). Check it out:
Devoto's voice, which I hadn't really heard before this EP, is a bit rough around the edges, but it works very well with these songs. You can hear the emotion behind his singing, and thus the offbeat, uber-creative songs leave quite an impression on the listener.
Where Did You Go? starts out acoustic before a crunchy wall of guitar riffs takes over, and gives the song a really big, catchy sound. It might be my favorite track on the collection. It also has a great solo halfway through, leading into a refrain of "We must be the change", a hopeful call to action (I think).
It'll Be Alright begins with a off-kilter vocal hook that took me a few listens to "get", and the song's stop-start rhythm, combined with that challenging melody exemplify how Devoto is far from content to churn out more standard, run-of-the-mill guitar rock, instead offering up something that deserves appreciation for its willingness to be different.
That was one of the best aspects of the Matches as a band, their refusal to adhere to the conventions of pop-punk and just write easy three-chord songs about girls and high school. As they progressed, an almost entirely new band emerged, and it was really sad to see that creativity die when the band called it quits.
Just as Maniac gave Shawn Harris a new creative voice with which to continue what he started with The Matches, Bird by Bird gives the same opportunity to Devoto. Heavy Eyelids, the EP's closing track, is a more straightforward acoustic tune, but the precision of his guitar plucking and the power of his voice shows off that he's ready for more time in the spotlight.
Jon just announced that he's going into the studio again for a new recording, and if he builds off of Albatross's understated, emotional songs in the right way, his next release might find an even larger audience.
Check out Albatross if you liked the Matches, Jon Devoto, or simply like authentic, real music.