Bird by Bird, the Berkeley duo comprised of guitarist Jonathan Devoto and drummer Ross Traver, released their first proper full-length record, While You Sleep, recently.
The band's first release since 2010's Albatross EP, While You Sleep finds Bird by Bird growing into its own, crafting pleasant rock-pop songs with an earnestness that is reminiscent of Devoto's work with defunct Oakland band The Matches. The music on While You Sleep sounds much more like a full band effort than the work of two people, a testament to the album's great production.
Album opener Simple Days, with its steady drum beat coupled with a choppy guitar rhythm, is almost U2-ish stylistically, giving it a warm, inviting overall feel. Devoto's lyrics about trading grade school lunches and how the "simple days" of the past are now gone touch on issues with which we can all relate, especially those of us in our mid-twenties. The musicianship on this song is top-notch, really demonstrating the band's best attributes perfectly.
Relationships and breakups are the common themes on the album, most evident with She Calls and Break, tender recollections of the kind of emotion that goes along with the highs and lows of love. On Break, the music swells and builds along with Devoto's voice beautifully, a melancholy guitar riff leading the way.
Delirious, which was included on Albatross, comes up again here in re-recorded form, which is great considering it's one of Bird by Bird's more memorable songs, both in catchiness and the strength of Devoto's guitar playing.
Don't Wake Me picks up the pace a bit with a bouncy, drum-led rhythm and "lat-dah-dah-dahs" filling up the background of the song. Throughout the tune, chunky electric guitar riffs play off of the acoustic lead-in, creating a whirlwind of guitar harmony that is quite welcomed.
Let Go demonstrates the duo's ability to switch gears, blending energetic riffs and slower, passionate vocals with lines like You say we're a social animal/More like socially awkward. Originally an acoustic track from Albatross, Let Go sounds great fleshed out in electric form.
The rest of the album continues the blend of harmonic guitar work and emotional songs about life and love, culminating in album-capper Family Tree, which is Bruce Springsteen-ian in its tone, lyrics, and riffs...for the first two minutes, anyway. After that point, the song becomes a feverish jam between the guitars and drums, the rhythm rising and falling rapidly and taking on an improvisational feel. The tune (and album) conclude with a cacophony of sounds, whispered voices, computer beeps and feedback, the audio equivalent of smashing instruments onstage at the end of a show.
While You Sleep is a solid record of guitar-driven rock-pop. Bird by Bird have had many different lineups and personnel over the past couple of years, but Devoto and Traver seem to have settled on their best version yet. Only having two band members is one of the album's strongest aspects, as the songs have an understated simplicity that works consistently well.
In the end, While You Sleep should put Bird by Bird on the map. It's a solid collection of songs by a band that has really progressed in the few years since its inception.
You can check it out for yourself over at the band's Bandcamp page.