Birds of Tokyo just released their third full-length album, the self-titled Birds of Tokyo. Hailing from Perth, Australia, this is a band that I’m sure you have never heard of (if you’re from the USA, at least). I wouldn’t have ever have heard about them either had I not gone to see Hot Leg perform at the Viper Room in March 2009. Hot Leg featured Justin Hawkins, the lead singer/spandex wearer of the Darkness, that hokey but fun glam rock band from England from years ago…remember them?
Anyway, Birds of Tokyo opened that show, and I was blown away by their set. I guess it would be easy to call them a “rock” band, but they incorporate some interesting orchestrations and darker melodies to their songs, not unlike fellow Aussies Silverchair (another highly underrated band out of the country).
Birds of Tokyo have won several awards in Australia and routinely have big hit singles on the radio and sold-out, successful tours all over the country…yet I have NEVER heard anything about them anywhere here in the States. Ever.
That’s a shame, because they’re really a very talented, multi-faceted band worthy of your time. Their debut album, Day One, had some gems on it, such as Black Sheets (which sounded like what Incubus could have sounded like had they retained any semblance of their early edge) and Wayside. I didn't think its follow-up Universes was quite as good as the debut, but it still had Wild Eyed Boy and Silhouettic, both solid songs that were big hits in their country.
Their new album, though, ups the ante even more. The band sounds more polished and stadium-worthy, which I’m sure they are in Australia. The album’s first single, The Saddest Thing I Know, balances some dark lyrics and an upbeat melody really well. Vocalist Ian Kenny is the band’s strongest element, in my opinion, as his voice is a bit unique but suits the music excellently. At the Viper Room gig, he also employed some great stage presence, bringing a subtle but powerful element to the live show.
Album opener Plans, currently blowing up on Aussie radio, starts out softly before Kenny starts singing and the music builds to an epic chorus. It’s a great song for the band to bust out as the album opener on their third album, already being big stars. It has that kind of feel to it.
The Dark Side of Love boasts some great melodic guitars during the verses before a radio-friendly chorus kicks in. I don’t mean “radio-friendly” in a bad way here, it just has that bouncy melodic vibe to it. Birds of Tokyo are a great indie rock radio band, I guess I can say it that way, and it works really well.
Adam Spark lays down some slick guitars all over this album, whether they’re in the forefront of the music or if they’re in the back, accentuating Kenny’s vocals (which tends to be the case).
That’s the case with In the Veins of Death Valley, big boomy guitar riffs not really driving the song so much as laying the groundwork for the melodies (think of what Brad does for Linkin Park but with more variations in the chords). This song in particular has some nice keyboard work and orchestration going along with the song, giving it a nice haunting touch. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the record.
Circles slows things down a bit, and almost veers into adult contemporary territory with its piano work and almost falsetto-vocals by Kenny, but these flourishes don’t ruin everything, thankfully.
Wild at Heart starts out in Linkin Park territory (new school LP, with all the melodies and instruments and stuff) before branching out to better territory. It changes tempo abruptly but fluidly. I find this song pops up in my head throughout the day more than any of the others on this record, so be forewarned that it might get stuck in yours as well.
The Gap finds Kenny channeling his inner Matt Bellamy, and the song has crunchier guitars than most of the other tunes thrown into the mix. This song is definite “stadium anthem” material, with majestic crowning riffs and soaring vocals. I’d be surprised if it isn’t another huge hit single for the band.
On The Unspeakable Scene, the band finds itself channeling its inner Silverchair (post-Diorama) with great efficiency. Kenny really sounds like Daniel Johns here, with some eccentric multi-octave vocals and choppy, quirky guitars and melodies all over the place. It’s one of the better tracks on the album, too, really demonstrating the band’s versatility.
Album closer If This Ship Sinks (I Give In) closes things out in grand fashion, starting out quietly and erupting into a wall of guitars and urgency, before wrapping up with a somber outro accompanied by more elaborate strings and piano. It’s quite majestic.
The only problem I can find with this album is that there’s no American distributor. This album, just like the previous two, hasn't been released here, and that’s too bad. I had to track this album down on iTunes, where it’s mislabeled as having been released in 2005. A band like this deserves more attention than it has…sure, they’re huge in their home country, but they should be big here too. They’re apparently taking Silversun Pickups out on tour in Australia in the next couple months, so hopefully the Silverlake golden boys (and girl) put in a good word or two and Birds of Tokyo find themselves more active stateside. I can dream.
I was fortunate enough to randomly notice them at a tiny gig in Los Angeles a year ago. I hope that wasn’t the only time I’ll see them.
Pick up Birds of Tokyo if you want to check out an accomplished, under-the-radar indie band that is well worth your time.