[Album Review] Fish & Bird- Something in the Ether
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by Mark Anthony Brennan
fishandbird

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Release Date: September 30th, 2014
Label: Fiddlehead Records

They are an indie folk-rock outfit from the West Coast. You think you’ve got them pegged already, don’t you? Think again. For one thing they have more rootsy instruments in their arsenal than you’d normally expect from Canadian pacific music (banjos, fiddles, etc.). The thing that really sets them apart, however, is their arrangements. That’s not to say that F&B take you on weird free-form trips or baffle you with dissonant change-ups, but the song structures are never disappointingly predictable. It’s not heavy-handed by any means, but they throw you off just enough to pique your interest.

“Boots” is a great example of their craftsmanship. It starts off with the slow southern folk-blues sounds of scratchy fiddle and twangy electric guitar. Then Taylor Ashton’s voice comes in like low thunder rolling over the Appalachians and right on down to the Mississippi delta. It’s ominous, like there’s a storm about to break. But what F&B settles into is no storm — it’s more of a light frolic of indie pop about reverberations that never die. And if “Something in the Ether” sounds at first like the most quintessential indie song of the 21st century, then they keep defying your expectations by heading into a chorus when you thought there was another verse (and vice versa later on) and by featuring a rock guitar solo smack in the middle of an acoustic folk piece.

Elsewhere on the record the band dabbles in bluegrass, ’90’s alt pop, Celtic and even Broadway musical, but they never really stray far from their Gulf Islands roots. It’s all done with clinical skill and an artsy flair, made all the more impressive by the lyrical depth on display. Ashton and company employ clever wordsmithing to  explore the nature of human interactions, emotions and communications. In the song “Lonely Resonator” they ask:

we moan with morbid satisfaction
who can sing the saddest song?
we teeter as we sing along
we live for that wincing reaction
who expresses heartbreak best,
who can get us right in the chest? 

On the basis of ‘Something in the Ether’ the answer to that question would be you, Fish & Bird. You express it best.