By Mike Faloon
Dear Brian Cogan,
I’m worried about you, my friend. You’ve been posting status updates on Facebook like the New Bomb Turks used to release 7”s, that is to say with alarming frequency. It’s probably not a cry for help, not a digital “give me a hand, dude.” It’s probably just filling gaps of time as you work on other projects. (How many books do you have in the works?) Regardless, I’ve got a record that you, more so than anyone else I know, will dig immeasurably: The Other Side of Darkness by the Night Birds.
It’s fantastic, a step up from the band’s formidable 7”s mostly because there’s more music — a 22-minute sustained blast compared to the 4-to-10-minute jolts of the previous records. I think you know what these guys sound like but just in case, think California surf punk — blazing tempos, dire lyrics, beautiful guitar tones; Dick Dale in hyperdrive. I recognize that the Night Birds’ sound pretty clearly comes from their forebears—they’re not out to obscure their influences — but how many of those early ‘80s bands built full-length records this good? (I ask sincerely, not rhetorically. Early ‘80s hardcore is not my forte and you literally wrote a book on it.)
So why listen to this Night Birds record as opposed to the hundreds of other reocrds calling for your attention? Valid question. You want details, supporting evidence, as well you should. I’d start with the Mike Hunchback’s guitar playing. Here then are one listener’s guide to Mike Hunchback’s stunning guitar moments on the Night Birds’ The Other Side of Darkness:
- “Born of Man and Woman” – this song seems complete but then this wave of overdubs kick in with :18 left, oh my
- “Land Fill Land” – a riff that would make Easy Bay Ray proud (or maybe envious, not sure of the last time he cooked up something so riveting)
- “One Eye” – once again a brief, brilliant flurry of overdubbing, this time he waited until there was :09 left, which doesn't seem like enough time to accomplish anything
- “Day After Trinity” – great instrumental, though too short at 1:22
- “Failed Species” – I don’t if this qualifies as a solo or maybe it’s more of a guitar break, regardless it’s bliss from :50 - :59
- “Oblivious” – at the 2:06 mark there is yet another solo, but it’s more of a rock solo, albeit a fast one, than it is a punk or surf solo — what a range this guy has!
You’ll dig the lyrics, too, especially the movie references. “Hoffman Lens” is based on John Carpenter’s They Live. (Have you read the Jonathan Lethem book yet? Excellent read. It’s from the same Deep Focus series that gave us John Ross Bowie’s Heathers and Josh Wilker’s The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.) There’s also a Woody Allen reference in “Land Fill Land,” which the band was considerate enough to footnote. How many bands — surf punk or otherwise — care enough to annotate their lyrics? I’m sure there are references to other movies, too. (Do you recognize the sound bite from the end of “Paranoid Times”?)
Thanks for listening. As always you’re a great sounding board. I’ve been enjoying The Other Side of Darkness for months, but only now have I managed to piece together something like a review. (I gave the record four more spins today. It’s still getting better.)