Album review: Priestbird – "Beachcombers"

Priestbird is the new moniker of former instrumental indie-prog outfit Tarantula A.D. It seems that tensions within the band came to a breaking point such that they didn’t feel they would be able to continue making music together. They split and went their separate ways, only to ultimately end up creating music together again.

It seems as though they can’t avoid their creative tendencies and perhaps the time away allowed each of them to re-evaluate the music that they wanted to make. This change of gears seems to be exactly what each of the trio wanted; reconvening to see if anything would click. The result, “Beachcombers”, shows that things did, in fact, click. The album is thoughtful and, on the surface, laid back. Looking deeper one will discover that Priestbird have not completely let go of their prog leanings. Much less pronounced, for sure, but  they most certainly have far from completely disappeared.

Priestbirds musicianship stands at the forefront throughout the album, such as with the complex and tight vocal harmonies that appear on the Souther front porch vibe of “Gone”, with its touch of bouncy acoustic fingerstyle technique. Interesting harmonic shifts exist throughout the album for those that are paying close enough attention. There are some subtle metric shifts as well. But Priestbird is more heart than head, eschewing the truly prog tendency to prove to the audience how much tricky stuff they can squeeze into a song. (see: Tool).

The tracks on “Beachcombers” still only run in the 3 to 4 minute range and focus more on gentle melodies and lilting vocals with a very laid back groove. There aren’t any songs that seem to be trying too hard to do something that the music doesn’t want to do. Songs, in my opinion, when done right have a way of naturally evolving into what they need to become. Prog sometimes pushes back against this idea a little bit too much and that tension can take a lot away form a song.

Priestbird - "Beachcombers"
Priestbird - "Beachcombers"

“Who Will Lead Us” is definitely a stand out track, with a defining sound. Its lush chorus of “Who will lead us from here?” brings to mind the sound and production values of maybe Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” or some of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s earlier, slightly less pretentious (and portentous) material. The little guitar break that appears just before each chorus is perfectly placed. I can imagine it as easily having a million places to go. Instead Priestbird practices restraint and only later develops this seemingly little aberration into a bridge section, bringing it back to the chorus. They never go too far astray.

The string arrangements I’m sure will have some reviewers using the word “orchestrated” to describe the tunes, but I think that the words “lush” and “expansive” are much more apt. These descriptors also do not come with any additional classical music concert hall connotations. Priestbird uses the strings so well as part of the ensemble. It never seems like they are just “something extra” that needs to be used. They really become a part of the songs and help to lift everything to a higher level during the blissful choruses.

“All That’s Lost” delves into Bossa Nova territory adding another layer to their sound that is already difficult to pin down. I really can’t think of another band that is able to use world music influences as seamlessly intertwined with their own psychedelic sound as Priestbird has in this track.

Album closer “Yellow Noon” sums up the ideas of “Beachcombers” pretty well; a delicate and subtly complex verse is plucked out on the guitar with gentle vocals followed by an expansive chorus that revels in more dense atmospherics. Some lead guitar work comes to the fore, but just as they have showcased their tasteful restraint elsewhere on the album, it never gets too invasive.

This seems to be a great new beginning for a band that already has the experience of being a touring band. They are using their more cerebral creative side not as the basis for their songs but instead holding it at arms length and casting sidelong glances at their former musical direction while letting their hearts lead them, not their head.

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The album is available for download from Priestbird’s site, here. Name your own price.

[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/06-Who-Will-Lead-Us.mp3|titles=Priestbird – “Who Will Lead Us”]

 

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