From Honeymoon to Houses and homes – The Bye Bye Blackbirds’ new album offers memorable songs and lyrically a heightened sense of place, not straying much beyond the edge of town, but alive to the ghosts who have walked the same streets and leant against the same bars. The set leads off with the song that encapsulates this, ‘The ghosts are alright’. At first it seems too busy for its own good but with listening makes ever-increasing musical sense. Its near euphoric harmonising is characteristic of the BBBs, as is the excess of ideas. It motors to its conclusion, with the bass not so much buzzing as fizzing; the ghosts are alive (and after the day before yesterday, these being Left Coast ghosts, no doubt they’re celebrating too).
The whole recording hums with life. On ‘In stereo’ cymbals sound like waves breaking on the shore while with ‘Leave a light on’, the Blackbirds come as close as anyone has to achieving the aura of the magically authentic analogue recording that Lee Mavers apparently always felt eluded the La’s. The guitar crackles with gritty energy that contrasts beautifully with the harmonising above it. And the group do this without being slaves to tradition or the limitations of past recording techniques. Even when anachronistically choosing to cover the Everly Brothers’ ‘It only costs a dime’ – ‘it’s a song that makes absolutely no sense in an age where nothing costs a dime and pay phones no longer exist’ – they find a fit with their own contemporary sound and song writing, really attacking the song, as say the Jayhawks might have done.
Neither are they afraid to experiment, giving over running time to music which defies four piece categorisation. ‘Next door’ allows us some moments of melancholy guitar minimalism heard through a wall, while the album closing ‘Murray Morgan’s last dream’ recalls ‘I see the sun’ from Biff Bang Pow!’s 1987 Creation LP Oblivion both in its stretched-out psychedelic ambience, and in the contrast it strikes with what the group is more usually about.
At nine tracks, it’s perhaps one or two songs light of the classic forty minute album mark, but that’s to remain captive in the mindset of someone who grew up on albums; in the download age a complete artwork can be any length it needs or desires to be. I’m left wanting more – the BBBs have opened up a number of mineral-filled seams and I hope they keep on mining them.