Lawrence, Kansas psych-folkers Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk make for an aggressively weird MySpace profile. From the Encyclopedia Britannica passage of a band name to the animated GIF of Darth Vader stealing a slice of pizza from Han Solo, the group embraces the goofy, fun, and brightly colored. This palette translates pretty well to their music as well, but with an added dose of near-meditative psychedelic focus.
Over the past three years, the group has ranged from three to eight multi-instrumentalists. This varying membership amassed a pile of instruments and noise-making tools for their expertly messy live shows. This comes across in their recordings, of which there are nearly 15. The CDs, cassettes, and vinyl releases are put out by tens of different labels you’ve probably never heard of. One new album gives a shoutout to that best-known HeMan villain, Skeletor (check out the adorable hand-drawn cover).
At the core of Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk’s music seems to be a big appreciation for Here Comes the Indian/Sung Tongs era Animal Collective, that mixture of eclectic acoustics with shoegazy harmonies. “Fort Porkchop”, off of the just released Puppycat EP, opens with a wave of far-away vocals and rhythmically strummed guitar. The gently polyrhythmic cymbal and tom beat that accentuates the psychedelic, tribal-y nature of the waves. Occasionally, one of the reverb’ed moans will crack higher into the mix, but then fade slowly away. The piece revels in its organic structure, building and fading without being forced into any sort of structure. The long, chirping outro floats away on a breeze.
But they’re not only good at the ambient and the freeform. “Train Fuzz” opens with a driving beat and chugging guitar line. The vocals come in a few moments later, a simple, yet effective melody. The bridge immediately after, though, is haunting, its wordless vocal harmonies taking over, subduing the once rushing rhythm. The only complaint lodgeable is that the song is just too short.
With a title like “Drum Drum Drone Drone”, you should probably know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. The shapeshifting wall of harmonious guitar and vocal drone melts and drips beautifully. That being said, either there’s a layer of drums I never quite heard or the song’s mislabeled. The counter-point strumming of “Our Girls” comes straight from that same mystical forest that brought Animal Collective’s “Doggy” to light. The glistening piano added over the top is an inspired choice, adding quite a bit of depth to the song.
“Summer Worms” proves that the group draws from more than that one well of influence. The over-long intro of fuzzy, clanging guitars and thumping drums is more rooted in a sort of backwoods Sonic Youth territory. The song that eventually emerges features tortured, shouted vocals, feedback solos, and a thumping bass line, displaying an alternate, raucous siamese twin to the haunted, spacey ambient pieces.
Having seen them a couple of years ago in Chicago, I greatly anticipate the day they plan some serious tour dates outside of Kansas again. Their ultra-hip influences may be a bit obvious, but they’re pulled off perfectly, without a hint of pretense.
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