In the 1990s, college/indie rock was gobbled up by the major labels, eager to cash in on the energy and authenticity of the music. Just a few decades later, the record industry, destroyed by the one-two punch of peer-to-peer sharing and streaming, has seen many artists return to independent paths. Lost in the narrative, however, is the music itself.
Under major label control, the ethereal, lush productions of indie rock became much more mainstream-rock oriented. R.E.M. learned to enunciate. Nirvana gained a pop sheen. And artists who tried to stay true to their sound, like Juliana Hatfield, just didn't go the distance, sales-wise. Which is why Bird Streets, a project between songwriter John Brodeur and guitarist Jason Falkner, is so refreshing. It's a modern album capturing a classic 1980s/1990s indie rock sound.
Brodeur's voice bears a sonic resemblance to R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, but with more precise diction. However, the music draws from a variety of sources. "Carry Me," the album's first track, has a poppy, harmony-laden chorus right out of Matthew Sweet's playbook. However, the hand claps in the song are straight-up Paul Westerberg from The Replacements. It's not derivative, though. Brodeur and Falkner aren't stealing or appropriating. Rather they're paying tribute to their influences. And sadly, a lot of these bands and artists have been forgotten.
Which isn't to say this is a CMJ nostalgia album. Bird Streets show all kinds of influences. "Direction" is reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden." "Heal," with its plaintive piano, yearning vocals, and country-flecked guitar, could have been a track on George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.
It's not hard for a band to create music that sounds like other bands. The trick is weaving together influences in a way that makes the music sound new and exciting. And that's what Bird Streets has done on their debut—created something that is both familiar and new. And make no mistake; there are quite a few neat twists on this album.
One twist is Brodeur's voice, which is capable of hitting wonderfully high notes. To the extent that he could have been a Beach Boy. "Betting on the Sun" features Brodeur using an impressive amount of sonic range, and while he never swerves into Mariah Carey territory, it's amazing to hear someone, especially a man, able to use so much of his register.
Falkner's production is also a treat. Anyone remembering college rock will recall a certain amount of muddiness in the mix. Instruments bled into each other and while the impressionistic sound is what makes so many of those albums such classics, it's also nice to hear a densely produced album where all of the instrumentation can be distinctly heard.
Bird Streets will appeal to people of a certain age who remember when indie rock meant selling cassettes and 45s at gigs and not giving out SoundCloud addresses over Twitter. But it will also appeal to pop fans who love intricate-yet-catchy pop songs lovingly created and produced. If this album were put out 30 years ago, fans would be dreading the day a major label scooped up Bird Streets. Luckily for listeners, the record industry, as it was once known, has been obliterated.
Notable Tracks: “Betting on the Sun” | “Carry Me” | “Stop to Breathe” | “Thanks for Calling”