26 February 2009

Album Review: The Bird and the Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future

Finally, an album that fills the unprecedented demand for 60's-jazz-style electropop. And I didn't even know it existed. But based on Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future by The Bird and the Bee, I'm convinced that somewhere out there, an excited fan squealed in joy at the news of this record's debut.

Ray Guns is one of those albums that requires you to accept every other aspect of the music before you can approve of the genre. To that end, The Bird and the Bee succeed. Production values are about as polished as a classic Cadillac showroom. There is not a misplaced note on this album. And then the duo ofInara George and Greg Kurstin do just what they set out to do.

"Fanfare" starts off the album with a cascade of drum rolls and synth chords from an era where nuclear-powered cars were a nifty ideas. "My Love" follows, and this is clearly the lead song. Inara's crisp voice plays against a hip-hop beat and starry-night piano jingles. And every so often Greg's instrumental choices, like chimes and acoustic guitar strums, accentInara's graceful passages. Her voice is so airy, you could fill bicycle tires with her pipes. Mr. Kurstin's arrangement skills come through on the album, artfully layering his partner's vocals in choruses and calls-and-responds.

The Bird and the Bee succeeds at actually maneuvering in the microgenre that they so craftily occupy. Electro-cabaret? Check it off ("Diamond Dave," "You're a Cad"). Electro-lounge? Yep ("Ray Gun"). Kitschy dance pop? Uh-huh. Inara even sings in Japanese ("Love Letter to Japan"). Electro-ballads? Try "Meteor," with its lush, almost adorable chorus in a vocal register that will annoy your dog. All the while, I guarantee that you'll tap your foot to the catchy kick-and-clap drum pattern. The duo even manages to fit in some tongue-in-cheek musical jokes with appreciable subtlety. "Polite Dance Song" asks the listener to--in the most pleasant motherlycoos possible--"Give it up for me, please/Put your hands in the air/If you know what's good, you wanna shake it like you just don't care," all over a hip-hop beat so sincerely organic that it's possible to laugh and feel good.

This is a record that's just too good to pass up. Although the album might be considered too conservative for the style--indeed, the two musicians do almost seem afraid to stop throwing back all those references and quotations of an era gone past--the music is just so... catchy, not in an Aqueduct kind of way where a measure or two of music gets under your skin. The Bird and Bee innovates on pop music just enough to keep things interesting and keep you coming back for the musical flourishes that hit the spot every time.

Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future was released on January 27, 2009, by Blue Note Records.


becktronbexbecky said...

I prefer Obi Best.

Robert said...

Obi Best is different than The Bird and Bee--more Architecture in Helsinki than Amon Tobin or The Avalanches. B&B is more lush and more cleanly produced. Obi Bird sounds more eclectic, although I can understand where the comparison would come from.

becktronbexbecky said...

Alex Lilly sings backup in The Bird and The Bee, and they play in Obi Best, which she fronts.