Posted on May 19th, 2011 (11:00 am) by Bo Smothers

Let me start by saying that whatever 'it' is, these guys have it. It might not jump right out at you immediately, it may even lay in wait a complete listen-through or two into the album, but once Priestbird's fourth album Beachcombers gets both it's metaphoric and literal hooks into you, there's no chance of getting them out. Sounding sometimes like Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd - polyphonic, distorted, aggressive and haunting – other times like good old-fashioned freak-folkers, complete with the complex fingerpicked guitar, oddly phrased, beautifully sung vocals and dense, well-written vocals, and occasionally simply vicious, the album is consistently fantastic and sometimes extraordinary.

Two consistently brilliant facets on Beachcombers, and also the two facets most common in albums of the psychedelic-folk-rock persuasion, or any persuasion for that matter, are the tight, dreamy, often layered vocals and the widely varying styles and tone of guitar playing, which is sometimes understated and sometimes hits you right in the mouth like some sort of cocaine powered Charlie Sheen-Gorilla-Robot hybrid. The former of these strengths is due in part to the well practiced, beautiful, sometimes chilling, tenor choruses held aloft by ever member of the band (that's right, everyone can sing in the band, and not in the 'maybe-no-one-will-notice-in-the-chorus' kind of way either, all these guys can really belt it out) that appear in every song to some degree. Take for instance the second track on the album, “Stay,” which begins with a sweet, earnest 'Hey' in chorus, and is driven by that same wavering chorus for the whole song, with only the help of a low guitar track, as well as slight percussion that evolves temporarily into drums and a sad, quiet violin line.

I'd be remiss however, if I didn't mention that much of the singing's appeal has to do with the spot-on production lavished upon every song on the album by Noah Georgeson – you know, the guy who produced, engineered, mastered and mixed Joanna Newsom's albums Milk Eyed Mender, Have One On Me, and Sprout And The Bean, Little Joy's first and self-titled album, as well as almost every one of Devendra Barnhart's albums, and recorded a couple songs with Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes, as well as all the afore-mentioned people. Yeah, that Noah Georgeson. Point being that the vocal work wouldn't be half as impressive or eerie or grabbing as it is without his little touches here and there. For instance on the opening track “Color Loom,” the band's voices sound, although very clean, far away – a bit removed. Then, we hear them sound warm and full, as if they're in the room with you on the fourth track “Gone.” All throughout the album Georgeson manages to make every song sound as crisp and new as the next, with the vocal timbre changing from song to song and keeping the listener guessing and excited.

The latter of the aforementioned strengths, the guitar playing, also stems in part from an outside source, and one as easily, if not more so recognizable. That being, that much of the guitar playing was handled by Stone Gossard, the rhythm guitarist form Pearl Jam. However, as it's hard to tell when it's Gossard manning the axe, or Saunder Jurrianns (the guitarist for Priestbird), what's more impressive is the playing itself, the dichotomy of playing styles between songs. First of all, there are songs like “Bright Wind,” which make up the majority of the album, wherein the guitar is a minimalist accompaniment, a distinct, if quiet, jangle at the back of the song that might rise up to a steady, electrified strum when the vocals take a break.

Then we have songs like “Diamond,” the single from the album and also the most surprising song, once described as a a cruise missile right to the sternum, which is in many ways an apt description as the song, as this song is from where I draw the Syd Barrett comparisons. The song is downright scary the first time you hear it – aggressive, confusing, distorted; different, in short, than the rest of the album. The guitar takes no breaks throughout the entire song, a la Blitzkreig Bop, and is a departure in almost every way from the rest of the album, and is also one of the only problems I forsee any listeners having with the album, as it's not, for most a welcome break from the downbeat folk-rock that composes the rest of the album.

But they did make a bitchin' video for the song, which I suggest you watch to get the whole terrifying experience.

Then there's we have songs like “Gone,” whose twangy, joyous Chet Atkins-eqsue fingerpicked phrases juxtapose nicely against it's morbid lyrics sung in haunting tone and lilting phrasing “Gone, gone, my baby's gone / I sunk her in the sea / Green to blue to black to gray / she's falling endlessly.”

Point being, there's guitar for everyone in this album. There's the quiet accompaniment of many of the songs, the super angry cacophony of “Diamond” that might not be everyone's cup of tea, and the fast flamenco of songs like “All That's Lost.”

But what makes Beachcombers great isn't just the well produced and well chorused vocals or the rainbow of guitar playing. Rather, it's their ability to take those boons, and alchemize them quite expertly with the unusual – the cello lines, the almost imperceptible dusting of horns on the second half of the album – and make it into a near perfect album. Now, I don't say this often, but I truly can't get enough of Priestbird, each song is a handworked treasure, tight like clockwork, and with the exception of “Diamond” for some people – myself not included – you will enjoy them all with time, which is my final word on the album – give it time. This music doesn't lend itself very easily to the casual listen. Listen, listen and listen again. Keep at it long enough, and you won't be able to stop.

Track List:
1. Color Loom
2. Stay
3. Bright Wind
4. Gone
5. Diamond
6. Who Will Lead Us
7. All That's Lost
8. Be Sure
9. Yellow Noon

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

88 / 100
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