Pre-Screening: The Wooden Birds

Album: Magnolia
Artist: The Wooden Birds
Label: Barsuk
Due Out: May 12th

Some of the readers out there may be familiar with Andrew Kenny, lead singer of American Analog Set, as well as Ben Gibbard's coconspirator on Home, Vol. 5. For those individuals, this is his new project, a relaxing and folksy indie act called The Wooden Birds. As for everyone else, Kenny, in general, makes very listen-able and accessible music in the folk vein, in this case, incorporating a western feel to his usual sound to create an Oregon trail type aesthetic. While listening to the project's first effort, Magnolia, I feel at ease and simply able to take in the scenery around me. If you're planning on a road trip, or simply driving around in the western plains states, this is probably the album you're looking for. It's not too long, and not too short- rather, it's concise, and to the point. No frills, no extraneous details. It's just the type of album you can drift along to without a care.

"False Alarm" starts the record with a warm and inviting voice, seemingly greeting you at the door and taking you into the small space you're about to embark on. For me, upon hearing a new band's initial offering, it is very hard for me to feel at home and comfortable, yet it's accomplished here. My surroundings look familiar, and I am at ease with what is going on around me. "The Other One" does not change this mood all that much, keeping a similar tempo and inflection, and continuing you on the path you began to embark on. It's pleasing and almost-maternal. Though you're keenly aware of the music, it does not intrude upon your thought process, and rather, exists as a complement to the visions in your head. Next, "Sugar" adjusts your feelings just slightly, focusing your attention to the people and things around you, and initially removing you from the steady and present percussion section which consumed the first two tracks. "Hailey" proceeds to move you forwards at a steady pace, as you're not yet galloping, but the trotting percussion has quickened a bit since the beginning of the record. The sound here volleys back and forth between bright and a subdued and stifled darkness, gaining steam where appropriate.

"Hometown Fantasy" also seems to juxtapose these images of light and dark well, as it seems to show the triumph of the journey, while also revealing the regret of being far from where you started. Following that, "Choke" slows it back down, with the arrival of night (or so I'll assume), and takes the mood all the way towards regret. If I had to paint a visual picture here, lying out in the desert of Arizona at night is the best image I've got, but it seems appropriate. The regret continues throughout the night, with "Quit You Once" (bare with me with this imagery, it works for me), and carries over, though more actively, to "Never Know". Here, the tempo begins to pick back up, and though Kenny's voice carries stronger, it doesn't seem more confident, though he does pick up a few Elliott Smith-esque harmonies. The move to "Anna Paula" then signals the transition we've been waiting for, from the reserved nature of the first part, to the changeover at the middle, and now, the more active and engaging ending portion.

As we reach the home stretch, "Believe in Love" starts with some of the earmarks of a last song on the album, but manages to abort, and then recoup, sort of how the mood of the album at one point seemed resolved to failure, before picking itself back up. Still, what really lends to the continuity of this collection of songs is the steady percussion section, nearly identical from track to track, keeping the personality of the record intact throughout. Next, "Seven Seventeen" provides us with some fond senses of regret, as our narrator speaks of lost love, seemingly prevented by age. The female vocals here also provide a nice changeup, and give both figures in this short story a voice and face. Closure? Maybe. But if that wasn't, perhaps "Bad" is. All the moods and regrets have seemingly been dealt with, as Kenny gives instructions as how he should be seen and remembered. Definitely not the type of track that abruptly ends an album, it slowly walks us out the door, and we're completely comfortable with that as listeners.

What made Magnolia so enjoyable for me was the comfort and familiarity I felt right from the onset. Not since Blind Pilot's debut last year have I been so at home while listening to a record. Andrew Kenny's got something good on his hands right now with The Wooden Birds. All he has to do is fine tune it, and try and mold it into a potential long term project, as right now it still resembles something which may or may not be a permanent musical act. Still, though, I really did get a lot out of this one, but I'd recommend a couple listens if you really want to appreciate it. Simplicity is what makes Magnolia endearing, and if you're a fan of that, you'll enjoy it. For similarities, check out the aforementioned Blind Pilot, Rocky Votolato and Bon Iver.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Track: "Seven Seventeen" (not up on Imeem, but here's "Sugar")

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