Since their formation in 2006, The Bird and the Bee have quietly been making some of the better pop music of the past decade. Comprised of singer Inara George and producer/instrumentalist de jour Greg Kurstin, the L.A.-born duo consistently produces thoughtful, intricate songs bolstered by both imaginative lyrics and sophisticated composition. Their music has been featured in multiple movies and TV shows, yet it never seems to gain much ground beyond a blip on the radar before it fades back into obscurity. It's been five years since the release of Interpreting the Masters Vol. 1 (a tribute album of Hall and Oates songs) and six since Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future transported us to a James Bond-inspired headspace. In the time since, they’ve started families, worked on solo projects, and Kurstin has become one of the most in-demand producers/songwriters for the likes of Sia, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, and countless others.
It should almost be expected then that this new album, Recreational Love, would be masterfully put together and filled with hit after hit. Good news: it is. It may not be a groundbreaking or weighty album that will be held up as an example of perfection fifty years from now, but damn, it's a good time. The lapse in time between projects has produced an endlessly fun album that feels more grown-up and polished than ever before. Jazz, electro pop, soul, and R&B make up this incredibly addictive collection of tunes that will keep you smiling from start to finish.
If you were to sit down and listen to this album without ever knowing who it was, it might bring to mind British pop in the vein of Lily Allen. This is no small coincidence as Kurstin has worked with her in the past and the two acts have also toured together. George's vocal and lyrical technique are also similar, cheeky and demanding all at once. On the album's opener, the first words out of her mouth are, "You were so young/young and dumb/you were the baddest, the biggest, the bestest, burned out one." Then on the chorus, she expertly lifts words from the children's rhyme "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo," without sounding like an absolute idiot. That in itself is an accomplishment. Adding another love song written about a geographical destination (their first was "Love Letter to Japan" from Ray Guns...) gives us the simply titled Los Angeles, an '80s glam pop number you could use as your warm up for a night out on the town in...well, Los Angeles.
By far the most impressive thing on this album is the music itself. Kurstin makes use of everything at his disposal to aid in telling each songs story, at one point using a twinkling, starry sound effect after George asks, "Is there anyone out there?" It fabricates the notion that she was actually standing under a sky full of stars, seeking answers from the universe. This is what sets these outwardly simple songs apart; the small details you may not hear on first listen but are vital to ensuring their vision remains utterly unique. When you are flush with talent and a stellar reputation, you can also have legendary saxophonist Karl Denson lay down a solo on "Doctor," making an already funky song even funkier. His presence only stands to further the theory that this band is more cerebral than bubble gum.
Recreational Love is one of those rarely made pop albums, in the sense that it's almost a disservice to call it a pop album. The "pop" label carries with it a negative connotation that predisposes some people to toss it aside or take its contents lightly. The Bird and the Bee are especially proficient at avoiding this because they don't focus on having the next monster hit single. By discarding the cookie cutter mold and following their own creative desires, they end up with something deeply personal; an expertly crafted, lovingly delivered batch of tunes that requires contemplation and reaches the highest levels of gratification. One can only hope that comparable bands will take this blueprint and run with it into the future.