by Mike Faloon
Born to Die in Suburbia LP
Maimed For the Masses 7” EP
There are many reasons to like Night Birds. Numerous. Let’s start with my current chart-topper: Night Birds assume that their listeners cross reference. Here’s an example. Born to Die in Suburbia (Grave Mistake) is the band’s sophomore LP. The opening song is “Escape From New York.” Musically, it’s a good, not perfect, decision. It’s a fine instrumental. It’s a great platform for PJ Russo (the band’s new guitarist charged with the job of replacing Mike Hunchback; more on that later). But in strictly musical terms—separating the tune from its origins—“Escape From New York” isn’t the strongest opener. The album has at least four stronger songs. But “Escape From New York” ends up being a terrific opener. First of all, it’s a soundtrack song refitted for punk rock purposes. Its shifts in unexpected ways; certainly catches me off guard. Also, there’s the underlying assumption that you’re already familiar with the source material. (“Escape From New York” is a cover of the title song from the 1981 John Carpenter movie.) Or at the very least you experience a moment of “Isn’t that…?” and then read the album’s credits. (Ideally, either path leads you to recall “Hoffman Lens,” the John Carpenter reference from the band’s debut record.)
A strong follow up on my list of reasons to dig Night Birds is that they have overcome the departure of their original guitarist, Mike Hunchback. He didn’t write much of the band’s material. (Bassist Joe Keller and singer Brian Gorsegner are credited with writing most of the songs.) But Mike colored the proceedings with a beautifully reverb-soaked guitar sound; high-octane classic surf action. I was bummed out when I learned he was leaving the band. I was more than relieved when I caught a Night Birds show with PJ Russo on guitar. Much as I liked Mike Hunchback’s sound, Russo make it immediately apparent the role was filled. Does he carry it over into the studio? Absolutely. From the outset Russo brings his own sound—more classic punk, less reverb. He’s a huge part of why the first six songs on side one sizzle. (Check out the second half of the guitar solo on “Modern Morons,” about the 1:11 mark.) Things slow down on the side’s closing cut, “Nazi Gold,” but we can’t hang that on Russo.
Third reason: Night Birds have the confidence to place the record’s best song, “Maimed for the Masses,” in the middle of side two. Bold move, gents. I like it. Excellent chorus and the bittersweet narrative about a low-rent wrestler is a crowning touch.
Batting clean up: I’ve developed a stronger sense of what makes Night Birds tick lyrically. Since their first record (a 4-song CD-R from 2009) Night Birds have painted clear pictures with their lyrical stances—ample amounts of anxiety and anger, commenting on social issues, celebrating horror movies. But I tended to think of them on a song-by-song basis. The dark tones could be overwhelming. The songs on Born in Suburbia cover similar topics, but now I see where the Venn diagrams overlap. The pivotal idea seems to revolve around having awareness others don’t have, or worse, possess and choose not to act on; the pain of confronting a world that’s not what it could be.
Born to Die in Suburbia is as satisfying as loud, fast, catchy music gets. It’ll be in regular rotation for awhile.
The Maimed for the Masses 7” EP (Fat Wreck) borrows the title song from the full-length and adds three non-LP songs. “Boat Trash” is one of the band’s best instrumentals. “Barked Out” and “Last Gasp” aren’t far behind. Great EP for newcomers. Essential for converts.