The Falling Birds
Sweet Things That Kill
Sweet Things That Kill is available at:
12th August, 2015
Rock ‘n’ Roll; Blues; Rock; Grunge
Brooklyn, New York
FOR the next two reviews I will be pitting…
two New York bands against one another. In a couple of days I am focusing on Ska/Rock band Mrs. Skannotto (such a cool band name: no idea what inspired it) who hail from Rochester: located in Monroe County; it is dubbed ‘The Flower City’; notorious as being one of the most idyllic parts of the U.S. (topping lists as the most desirable areas of the country) – its population is varied. Split between white and black- about 40% of each, there is also a strong Latino population- Rochester itself is flourishing and nourishing community; one of the most sought-after parts of the U.S. Mrs. Skannotto’s Ska-cum-Rock motifs- whilst not indicative of Rochester itself (not sure how you would simulate that musically)- is fitting with expectations: with acts like Polar Bear Club, Sirens and Sailors (calling Rochester home); Mrs. Skannotto are among the very finest- showcasing a direct and urgent style of music; a band with a huge future. The Falling Birds emanate from Brooklyn: the most populous of New York’s five boroughs, it is also one of the most notorious. To be fair, my knowledge of Brooklyn doesn’t extend beyond the comedy (the exceptional Brooklyn Nine-Nine), yet ‘Kings County’ has produced some of the world’s best music- from the likes of Grizzly Bear and The Drums, the borough is a hotbed for musical talent. With a similar race/ethnicity breakdown, Brooklyn is perhaps grittier and more notorious (than Rochester) – the two areas are not that far apart; in terms of the bands and acts they produced. At the moment, Brooklyn is the more diverse of the locales (taking the first round perhaps): The Falling Birds are a true Rock ‘n’ Roll band; heavy and hard when they want to be, they have plenty of range and surprise- a band that can shift tone and emotions within a line; are among the most arresting and memorable acts in the U.S. Before I continue on- and raise another related point- let me introduce Brooklyn’s The Falling Birds to you:
Stephen Artemis – Guitar, Vocals, Harmonia
David Burton – Drums
Nick Albury – Bass
“Grungy rocker”, “blues infused”, “country with a whiskey roughness”, “punk too limiting”, “melting pot of American music” are just a few of the adjectives music critics use to describe The Falling Birds. Their musical range, creativity and instrumental skills defy easy categorization. They are consummate storytellers. They spin tales of joy and heartbreak, honed in the cauldron of life growing up in Albany, New York and the rural Mohawk River Valley observing first hand their inexorable economic and social decay.
Principal songwriter Stephen Artemis absorbed Albany’s punk scene and upstate farm culture which formed the foundations of his song writing. “When I lived in the country, radio reception was limited to three stations, country, classic rock and oldies. In order to connect to alternative material, I had to create it myself” he said.
It was during this fundamental coming of age when Stephen witnessed the insidious decline of New York’s northern Rust Belt. The experience profoundly impacted the subjects and characters that define his work. Years later building his musical career and reputation in New York City and keenly aware of the incalculable disparity coexisting in that remarkable city Stephen began incorporating these experiences into his songs.
In 2011 Stephen met band mate Dave Burton, drums, and the first incarnation of The Falling Birds was born. Nick Albury, bass, joined in 2013. Each had left home in search of a more fulfilling life, but found life even more challenging in the Big City. The aftershocks of America’s Great Recession were still in full bloom and working multiple jobs made concentrating on their musical style extraordinarily difficult. To compensate Stephen began to workshop his songs on New York’s streets and subway platforms earning the hard way performance experience and pocket change. He calculated that if he could entice New York’s commuter warriors for even a few minutes, he might just have a sound that would attract a larger audience.
The trio began writing songs that reflected their life stories and provided the inspiration to overcome the relentless grind of the City. The years of frustration and longing came to life in songs as emotional and chaotic as their lives. They learned the painful lesson that no meaningful art is produced without pain and the joys and disappointment life serves up. Instead of shying away, they embraced those experiences to create a sound uniquely appropriate to the times.
Soon their shows attracted a loyal and enthusiastic following. They described their performances as a musical conversation, a place where each instrument speaks in a distinct voice. Their songs range from melancholic – stories of loss and longing – as well as rowdy that exude a heavy blues riff.
The Falling Birds sound, as their name implies, is a fearless launch from the nest into a hopeful expectation of flight that is at once disturbing, compelling and ultimately optimistic.
In 2014 The Falling Birds released their first EP, “Native America”, a five song chronicle of their experiences and musical influences. “Native America” received significant favorable reviews from independent media which led to their 2015 follow up, “Till We All Fall Down”, which will be released this coming fall.”
The band have absorbed a range of colours: the shades and contours of their idols- the gods of music past- and their geography; the people they grew up with- what you get is something both old-sounding and fresh; genres mix and trip (in and out of one another)- everything from Grunge and Blues to whiskey-soaked Folk and Rock. The Falling Birds are doing business in a borough- and state for that matter- with a lot of healthy competition- New York is one of the most populous musical areas; the fierce competiveness has not bothered them. The boys sound effortless and cool in every moment; their songs have little anxiety and fractious emotion- their songwriting is unimpeded and free from critical expectation. Although their latest cut- that promise sweet things can kill- the band are always in control and ice-cold. Whilst the U.K. is producing its fair share of Rock bands- acts that can kick through concrete- the U.S. is edging ahead- and showing a greater sense of range and emotion when they do. We have some Falling Birds-type bands here- that lace together Blues, County, Pop and Rock- yet none with the same sense of fervency and authority. Authentic and hungry, Brooklyn’s stunning trio is gathering a huge momentum; their reputation is growing- their fan base swelling by the week. With Sweet Things That Kill picking up some prestigious reviews and press, things are looking good- watch this space…
If you are new to the group; wondering who inspires them- they list their influences thus:
“Mr. Hendrix, all the stones, Mr. Dylan, Mr. White, fellow birds The Black Crows, Chris Robinson, our brothers and sister across the pond in a Band of Skulls, NOFX (Mike sucks), the Sex Pistols, of course Kurt, the 60’s, the 90’s, yeah I guess the 70’s too, don’t forget about all the delta blues boys, are you still reading?, buy our albums please, and Mom & Dad.Song.”
That melting of U.S. Blues-Rock, Psychedelia and Folk- and essentially every other style/decade of music- is a good starting-point. Their latest single has elements of ‘60s/’70s Blues-Rock; smatterings of traditional Blues music- elements of The White Stripes. As it crackles and reaches fever-pitch there are touches of The Doors- that same magnetism and animal lust (displayed by Jim Morrison). Traditional and modern; uniting disparate strands of ‘40s Blues (with ‘90s Grunge), the band cover the spread- not to be compared with anyone else. They are a very unique and startling group: there are elements of other acts; you would be foolhardy to draw another name to their shore- The Falling Birds should be judged upon their own merits. With comparison to their previous work, the guys are on the top of their game: Sweet Things’ is their most enlivened and scintillating slice (to date). Native America E.P. was their previous work- recorded a year ago- and the first full introduction to the band. A five-track collection, the songs are as striking (as the E.P. cover) – a stunning design that intrigues the mind. Darling is a Grunge-laced, lo-fi diamond: scuzzy and swaggering at first, elements of Punk come out- putting you in mind of The Clash and Sex Pistols. Cocksure and masculine, the vocals have bare-chested intentions; the composition is tight and gripping- the band are in-step and in command. If Time Allows is more soothed and gentle: beginning with acoustic strings, the track offers respite and reflection- a chance to see the band’s sensitive side (and our lead’s adaptable and stunning voice). Country/Folk-influenced, it brims with the ghost of ‘60s Dylan- harmonica at the ready, it has shades of Dylan’s mid-‘60s output. Arms Out Wide and Dead Man Walking get the E.P. back in ‘heavy’ territory: the former begins like a haunting showdown- two pistol-slinging backs together; taking steps into the desert sun. Slinking into Tarantino/Surf-Rock territory the song has ounces of cool and sparkle- it explodes into life and clatters with abandon. Dead Man Walking has a similarly fascinating introduction: more Blues-Rock in sound, it is a leather jacket-clad rocker: imagine The Rolling Stones (circa-1968) spliced with The Black Crowes. New York Love Song—the E.P.’s swansong- takes things to a seductive close. Bristling with passion and tenderness, the harmonica leads the swoon- a passion play unfolds. Largely instrumental, it is a time for reflection and settlement: take the E.P. to a natural close; allow the listener chance to think. It completes an authoritative, jam-packed and mesmerising E.P. – few bands have come in this strong and bravely. Borrowing sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s- with some ‘90s/’00s Grunge and Blues-Rock- it has an evocative and nostalgic feel; the modern edges are all there- making it sound contemporary and fresh. What comes through is the band’s individuality and personality: there is no mimicking and tribute act at work- they are their own force; a band with their own skin. Huge and impassioned vocals sit with wonderful compositions and varied themes- backed by a lo-fi and ‘live-sounding’ production. Sweet Things That Kill– and one suspects their ‘Til We All Fall Down E.P. – is the band at their peak. Showing some continuity- fans of the band’s previous E.P. will find familiar themes- yet the guys are more urgent and emphatic here. The production is a little cleaner and crisp; the riffs bigger and more nuanced- the aftertaste sweeter and more addictive. It is hard to improve upon something (as treasured as Native’) yet the boys are ripe and receptive; fully up for the challenge- keen to keep the quality but naturally evolve. Old fans will love their new movements; new listeners will find much to love- the trio sounds in love with music (on Sweet Things’); finding new inspiration- putting fresh sounds into the pot. I guess their new E.P. will see Blues-Rock sit with ‘60s Rock and Punk- on their lead-off track, there is that definite nod to ‘60s/’70s masters- Hendrix and The Rolling Stones for sure.
Beginning in a flurry if Blues-Rock magic- where strings twang and swagger; the mood shimmies and puts on its drinking trousers- Sweet Things That Kill gets underway. Done in the most exhilarating- yet strangely subtle and restrained way- the listener cannot help but be pulled-in- and captivated by early promise. Arriving at the microphone; voice whiskey-soaked and lascivious; eyes trained and set- our front-man lays down his testament. An anonymous (and rather femme fatale) figure is investigated: whether an ex-girlfriend- or else a friend- she is “so bad”- the song’s title (and sweet thing that kills). In the early exchanges the guitar/bass/drum interplay has a traditional Blues/Blues-Rock template- an updated version of a Blind Willie McTell/Son House riff. Chugging and fist-pumping; foot-tapping and determined- it is a catchy and slinking introduction. The boys show how tight and in-tune they are (in the first stages): the composition sounds well-rehearsed and natural; there are no wasted notes or rambling- it is a razor-sharp riff. Soaked in booze and cigarette smoke, the listener (cannot help but picture) the scenes: the bar-room meeting; the red-dressed heroine- teasing (and extinguishing male admiration) with a glint of her eye. From the off, you are split between the past and present: the trio have a keen ear for ‘60s Blues/Rock heroes- The Rolling Stones especially- and the Detroit Blues-Rock movement (of the ‘90s and ‘00s)- the likes of Jack White can be heard. That said, the riffs and composition has modern edges and contemporary threads- you struggle to compare the song to another; it is very proud of its exclusivity and rareness. Ball-busting and intense, our hero lays down the law: his words crackle and ignite with lust- that endless sense of passion and persistence brings the song to life. Whoever the woman is- and by all measures, she seems like a firecracker- it is having an effect: I get the sense (the woman referenced) is not so fictionlised; maybe a girl that has cast her spell (or our man). Gun-toting beauty; trigger-happy cruelty: this gorgeous seductress has the capacity to crush a man’s heart; deceive with her sweet-natured appearance. No doubt lulling (her prey) into a sense of false security, we can all relate (to what is being said) – whether a literal killer (or just a metaphorical one), I generated some rather vivid sights. A song perfect for a Tarantino flick- or maybe a 1960s road movie- the production sounds quite vintage and bygone. Lo-fi and bare-boned, you get a real visceral sense of sexuality and lust; as though you are hearing the boys live- every note and words sounds ragged and exhausted. This makes the song a lightning bolt of energy; it comes across as genuine and distinct- although vocal clarity is lost a bit (some of the words seem a little muffled and buried; some lyrics get lost). Sweet Things That Kill never relents (when it comes to pace); it pervades and electioneers: desperate to get everyone on board; make sure the song burrows into the mind- and never shifts. By the half-way mark, the track sees it most enlivened moment: the vocal cracks and sparks; the composition shifts slightly- a brief emotional/tonal change of pace- before returning to that indelible central riff. Due to some loss of decipherability- some steps in the story get lost- you have to start to guess and speculate. Our hero is being tied-down (perhaps literally in some sense) and overcome; his subject doing her damage- causing quite a sense of delirium and confusion. The blackbird high on the fire- similar to those on the single’s cover- the girl is doing her worst. Becoming heavier and more concrete; grumbling and graveled- the vocal (and composition for that matter) get wracked and angry; the song reaches its exhausted peak. With our front-man letting his voice roar; his words shoot and swing. The guitar work is particularly vivacious: both insatiable and hungry; the riffs are punishing and psychedelic. Clearly inspired by gods like Hendrix and Robert Johnson, the songs riff is straight out of the U.S.- you could imagine the song being written on a porch in the Deep South- dog by his lap and a bottle of bourbon by his (our lead’s) side. Mixing songs like Back Door Man and Sweet Home Chicago, the Falling Birds boys update the ol’ Blues style: run it through their spectrum; they come up with something quite immense. Bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club- the San Francisco band has never overwhelmed the critics- are past their best (whenever that was); they never rocked as good as The Falling Birds- they would do well to study this song. Before the tale is up, you are not given a chance for breath: the song keeps coming round to strike; never allowing any submission or retreat. The song’s anxious coda is repeated; the heroine has left the room- the dust is starting to settle.
Congratulations must be offered to the entire band: the trio summon the same command and noise a four (or five-piece). Stephen Artemis leads with a commanding voice: his tones suggest elements of Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger and Jack White- at the heart of it, they are mere jumping-off points; his sound is very unique and distinct. Sounding like the result of an epic whiskey and cigarette binge- that would floor a room of elephants- that gravelly and soaked vocal is utterly delightful. It fizzes and electrifies with every word; the emotion and passion leant to every line is deeply impressive- the sheer power and prowess (from the first to last moments) is gripping indeed. As a guitarist, Artemis channels the legends of old- the McTells, Johnsons and his peers- but has a very modern sensibility- fusing old and new works wonders where; you are reminded of Blues’ glory days but always kept in 2015. Exhilarating and rampant, the riffage (sic.) is huge and Stone Age. David Burton supplies drum support: his stick work is emphatic and impressive; he lead from the back; keeps the song level and focused- offering up a huge weight of gravity and pummel; perfectly bonding with his band-mates. Tight and intricate, his work is not just shoot-and-squirt: there is a lot of rhythm and emotion; some nice little moments- that beautiful commingle with the lustful core. Impassioned and strong; flailing and hardcore, he is a drummer to watch. Completing the trio is Nick Albury: the bass player is the spine of the song; he keeps everything concentrated and moving; letting his bass provide plenty of urgency and power. Theatrical and driving; dynamic and straight-forward, it is an incredible performance. The entire band unites brilliantly: they are so tight and in-step throughout; a clear kinship and bond- you can hear the chemistry throughout. Each instrument supports the other; the percussion bonds with bass; both augment the guitar- which support the vocal. Intricate and intelligent; natural and intuitive, The Falling Birds have crafted a diamond here. The only minor criticism is the clarity and concision. Sometimes the basic/unsophisticated production mutes and depletes the vocal: the instruments drown out the voice; the intelligibility is diminished- some of the lyrics get lost in translation. Maybe a lyrics sheet- to accompany the song- would help; I found myself straining at times- trying to decipher what was being sung. That said, it is a minor quibble: you are so entranced by the song’s psychotropic trip, you just let it take you in- and thoroughly seduces. Drunken and drugged-out; wracked and lustful, Sweet Things That Kill is an out-and-out triumph.
Well, then! It is clear the New York band will rise to great things: building from promising beginnings, the boys get bigger (and more memorable) with each new release- they evoke a true Rock spirit without compromising integrity and ideology. Their personalities and voices are original and personal; their style a superb blend of old and new- their music appeals to the brain, heart and soul (few other acts promise that). It would be great to see the guys come play London: bring their mixture of black magic and mystique to the capital- and enthrall the British crowds (the boys are coming to Yorkshire later in the year; maybe they have to come further south?). Perhaps that may be a while off, but for now, the band should be very proud: their latest track is a bold and stunning record; perhaps their finest moment- a sure declaration of intent. Since last year- when they released their last E.P. – the boys have been working hard; laying down their new moves- let’s hope they capitalise on this momentum. The guys are unleashing their new E.P. soon- ‘Til We All Fall Down– which will give the world a chance to see what’s next; fully exposed and in their glory. Sweet Things That Kill is as stirring and memorable as its title; the band seem at their most natural and tight- no surprise the song has resonated with media and fans. Before I sign off, I wanted to finish on this point: the state of music in the U.S. Most of my reviews- being based around British music- usually end with the same sentiment- that the mainstream acts are being overpowered (and outdone) by the new/underground musicians. In the U.S. the same is certainly true: the mainstream music/charts are as mediocre and unpredictable as ours; their new musicians are by far the most impressive. With the likes of The Falling Birds leading the New York charge- and sister acts Mrs. Skannotto joining the fray- I predict big things- the Brooklyn trio will be a festival act to watch; they have the talent and intuition to make a long-term career (a distinct possibility). One of the big things we need to do- as much as possible through social media- is to become more aware (in this country) of great U.S. music- and vice versa I suppose. I discovered The Falling Birds through Yasmine Van Wilt- a stunning American singer/author- and I found her through… well, luck. I am glad I made the discoveries: it seems rather serendipitous and fluky. I guess that’s the way discovery/social media will work: how can we effectively overcome compartmentalisation? That may be a conundrum for another day, yet the point remains: the likes of The Falling Birds should not be left to sheer dumb luck/friend of a friend discovery. With a solid and scintillating set of songs; a terrific sound and sense of identity- they are a band to watch very closely. Check out Sweet Things That Kill; dip into (The Falling Birds’) back catalogue- and see how good they are. What the future holds- could be anyone’s guess I suppose- though it is sure to be filled with new ventures and extensive touring. They have a new E.P. forthcoming, so that is something (to get your teeth into). Make sure you listen to the single; take it to heart- and above all…
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