There are many ways to know that the weather's improving. Thermometers, calendars, and odometers can help. Overlooked, however, is the arrival of one of those “These songs will go on every playlist for the next few months” records.
Typically the band’s records have one or two surf instrumentals. This time out it’s 4-for-4, no vocals. It's weird to hear an entire Night Birds record that is sans singing, but it's a welcome weird—the absence of singer Brian Gorsegner’s vocals is odd at first but easy to adjust to. (Safe in the knowledge that he’s still on board. In fact, he plays synthesizer on the EP.)
For newcomers, it’ll help to know that Night Birds are a surf punk band. Mostly. They borrow from the conventions but never too rigidly. Guitarist PJ Russo is in fine form throughout, opting for a slightly dryer sound than some surf guitarists. (Perhaps therein lies the distinction between a surf guitarist and a surf punk guitarist—reverb dosage.) Likewise for drummer Ryan McHale, whose rack and floor toms are booming, much more so than the typical surf record.
Then again, I’m arguing that this isn’t a typical surf record, so that should be obvious. Joe Keller’s playing furthers this argument, but these crummy desktop speakers diminish his bass in the mix. (Love the convenience of mp3 files. Loathe what they do to the low end, especially now that my turntable is back in action and I can hear the difference.)
What else do I have in terms of my “They’re a great surf punk band but this isn’t a surf punk record” argument? There’s the synthesizers that lace “Agent Zero” and screech their way through “Pyongyang Bound.” When I first saw the credits I thought, Synths? Really, guys? I’ve since done a one-eighty: more synths, pile on the weird!
There’s also the Mel Brooks cover. Yes, the closing cut is a cover of “Hope for the Best (Expect the Worst)” from The Twelve Chairs. Following consecutive albums with nods to John Carpenter, Night Birds redirect with a very satisfying (and relatively faithful) Mel Brooks number.
So far my summer playlist has a lot of good geezer rock (Kim Deal, Guided By Voices, Bob Mould, Ed Crawford’s FOOD, the Baseball Project). Soon it’ll be time to seek out newer bands. Night Birds will be the perfect bridge.
(Note: I wrote this review several months ago. I'm not sure why I forgot to post it, especially considering how many times I listened to this EP.)