There are strong strains of counterculture-era California folk in ‘So, Bird…,’ but also sumptuous, updated sonics. There is pained memory and willed forgetting, and a beautifully strained tug-of-war between.
First impressions like glue.
Spotting somebody’s funky get-up, one wonders if the rest of her closet reflects comparable levels of fineness-in-finery. Hooting and cackling at a new acquaintance’s sidesplitting quips, one prays she’s not an utter bore around people she doesn’t want to impress.
We’re all animals of routine, and we fawn at the familiar. In art, this quality—sameness, consistency—was demonized for so long. But culture has since reconsidered, and now we’re (rightfully) acknowledging it more as voice than tendency.
Being a newcomer to the Yea-Ming and The Rumours party—I wrote an in-house release for their single “Oh Sweet Mother” just this February—I proceeded to rummage through their discography and found not just elements familiar to the band’s grammar, but rather, resonant with the human condition.
And I’m happy to share their sophomore LP, So, Bird…, continues to be populated with these, well, conditions: our shared inclination to get held down by memory, but also our propensity for adjusting the camera. The pain photographed in these songs, after all, are filtered through more forgiving lenses: those that cast hurt in a dreamy Instagram haze of willed forgetting. But make no mistakes about it: that haze doesn’t render the forgetting absolute; that haze simply lets the pill go down more smoothly.
There may be levity in the campfire-luau vibes of “I Don’t Dare,” a frolicky lightheartedness in “Pour Some on You,” and an unmistakable Moe Tucker-variety playfulness in “Look Me in the Eyes,” but one can tell the outward buoyance, though not necessarily for show, is a mere public face put on to mask a private malady.
But the mask is less opaque—hence ironically more potent—in the magnificent “By the Sea” and “I Still Dream of You”: both heady, filmic explorations of pedestrian heartache. The affecting “Takeda Lullaby” is no slouch either, sending equally prickly pinpricks to the heart.
“Happy-sad tango” was the pithy catchphrase I whipped up last time I wrote about them, and I’m still very much dancing that same dance when I spun So, Bird…, an anthology replete with “nostalgia, regret, and haunting feelings of the past,” as the group shares in a statement. There are strong strains of counterculture-era California folk in there, but with sumptuous, updated sonics which would make the record appealing to fans of both the arty detachment of Velvet Underground and, I don’t know, the sensitized dreampop of Japanese Breakfast.
To the already-initiated, the album also poses a subtle deviation: half of it was studio-recorded by the band—Yea-Ming Chen, guitarist Eoin Galvin, bassist Anna Hillburg, and drummer Sonia Hayden, alongside engineer Mike Walti—while the other half was tracked at home, with remote contributions from The Mantles’ Matt Bullimore from New Zealand.
“Some of the songs on this album follow a tried-and-true formula that I have grown to rely on,” Chen admits, but hastens to add that other tracks are “a definite pivot into a different direction” and “an attempt to represent the current person that I am.”
So, Bird… is “a confessional map of the landscape of heartbreak” which sees the band “swing, shimmer, and whisper through a dystopian valentine,” writes Stefanie Kalem in a release, and we at Lilystars are all thrilled for you to unfurl this map for yourself.