San Francisco’s Birds & Batteries are a prime example of the Bay Area’s seething, ambitious creativity. Their latest album, I’ll Never Sleep Again, opens with their reworking of Neil Young’s classic cut, “Heart of Gold.” Their version begins with enigmatic, slow, stuttering chimes, which abruptly give way to lead singer Michael Sempert’s twangy vocals and waves of pedal steel guitar. Less than a minute later, cold synths are followed by trembling, sonically-rich percussion. In my mind, the result is the musical equivalent of a sci-fi drilling machine (like the one in Total Recall) tearing its way up from the ground and demolishing a small, sad house on a vast, empty prairie in slow motion. It is a little unorthodox to open an album with a cover, but there is nothing orthodox about Birds & Batteries’ marriage of alt-country and electronica. Birds & Batteries frequently pull off both to excellent results.
“I’ll Never Sleep Again,” also employs slow, shining sequences and synths that bleat atop listless pedal steel as Sempert sings: “I’m alive / and I’m wondering / how to stay that way / cause I was young once / I could be young again.” Sweeping arrangements and an upbeat melody highlight standout track “Ocarina.” Other excellent tracks include the sonic explosion, “Star Clusters,” the menacing “After a Flood,” and the contemplative “Soft Surveillance.”
Birds & Batteries are currently working on their third album, which is scheduled for a release sometime in the near future (Spring 2009). You can pick up I’ll Never Sleep Again directly from the band or from iTunes.
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