Smile Politely

Album Review: Biirdie, Catherine Avenue

There are two major schools of thought when discussing bands in terms of their elements: one faction contends that there is infinite possibility in music — that each time a guitar is picked up, originality is possible, regardless of the history, influence, age, etc. The other faction argues that music, particularly rock ‘n’ roll, paints with a limited palette — that musicians are merely a sum of their parts, and particularly of their influences, and that—basically—what any critics might call “originality” is simply luck.

This, in some ways, is not so different from the argument between Creationists and Evolutionists.

Perhaps of lesser global significance, this division of music critics yields strange similarities: it produces the strange nomenclature of “musical gods,” of worship, rumors of unearthliness, and simple declarations that the premier progressors of rock ‘n’ roll not only will never be surpassed, but can never be surpassed.

I’ll stop this digression now, or rather I’ll get to the point in the first place: Biirdie is, of course, not a band of musical gods. Rather, Biirdie is a band of music fans—fans of the same ‘70s AM gold from which Wilco has pulled to make some of the most fantastic, lovable music of the past twenty years. Biirdie is yet another band that chooses Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, Randy Newman and Big Star over the big guns, and for the better; to boot, Biirdie sneaks in a bit of The Band, Bowie, and Gram Parsons for good measure.

Simply put, Catherine Avenue shimmers. It’s a record made for sunny days, and of course it would go to show the band’s from Glendale, California, bordered on the west by Burbank, the sunshiniest media capital of the world. Some of this is felt in the band’s songs: in disillusionment toward Los Angeles, in questioning American dreams. And yet now, as I’m writing this, it’s cloudy and threatening rain, and the record’s taken on a new feeling—one still exhilarating and fitting, but one distinctly different than the one you get while driving around on a sunny afternoon, listening.

There is heartache on the surface of Catherine Avenue, in presentation, and there is a certain pain in the lyrics as well. One listen to “Life in a Box” will leave you swelling with empathy, lulled by beauty, confronted by paradox. Yet the dreamy aura of the record never ceases to be amazing. It’s the kind of heartache we’re drawn to as humans: the kind found in most of the artists and bands listed above, in most bands that connect to us emotionally. Simply, this is a record that warrants listen after listen. In other words, just because it’s a sunny-sounding record doesn’t mean it relies on sunny days (and there are records that falter with such reliance).

Catherine Avenue doesn’t single-handedly progress rock ‘n’ roll, but Biirdie has been listening carefully to those who have. It’s worth pining over the fact that there aren’t enough truly good American rock records, though there might be plenty of American rock records. Achieving this status is proof alone that Catherine Avenue is worth many hours of your time. To say it’s also glorious and, at times, profound, and—God forbid—fun, is perhaps the icing on the cake. But it’s good icing, and it’s sweet. What Biirdie does, Biirdie does very well: take heed, abstractionists. Traditional rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well.

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