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Music Review: Eric Frisch – ‘Goodbye Birdcage’

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Birdcage600Currently from New York City but originally from Toronto, Eric Frisch wrote, performed (vocals, piano, guitar, bass, and percussion), produced, and released his first full-length album, Goodbye Birdcage, on 14 April of this year, in which he brings back to life 1950s and 1960s pop music. Frisch says that he wanted to create an album that was true to some of his biggest influences, including the Beatles and the Beach Boys. He also wanted to create an album reminiscent of classic Motown. According to him, “Each song [on the album] tells a different story, but they all come together to outline the narrative of moving out on your own and figuring out your life one adventure at a time.”

Goodbye Birdcage definitely has an old time vibe to it, what with its sing-along feel, the limited instrumental layering, the fully instrumental sounds, and its simple, easy-to-follow lyrics that propel a story forwards, contracting with repetitive, vague lyrics featuring in many modern pop songs. The only thing I personally found was overdone in the attempt to make this a throwback album is the overproduction meant to make the album mimic the lower quality sounds of the era. A hint would have worked much better than the current level of production, which became a little bothersome at times.

The album opens with a song about wanting the love of a girl. From its first opening notes, “Pretty Girls” felts like it could fit on a Beach Boys album. An uplifting, cheerful song (despite the story it tells of a guy walking down the street who sees pretty girls but can’t gather the courage to talk to them), perfect to play on the beach on a beautiful, sunny day, it embodies a certain nostalgia carried throughout the album by the innocence of its lyrics and the simple melody. It reminded me lyrically of “California Girls” and melodically of “Good Vibrations”.

The following song, the also very catchy “Telephone”, tells the story of a guy who is unable to get the love of a girl (perhaps one of the pretty girls he finally gathered enough courage to talk to?). There is a further layer of nostalgia in the very use of the word “telephone” – the way to woo a girl nowadays involves cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in short, everything but a straight-up telephone. It again is a song that, at its heart, is sad, but manages to remain cheerful in its guitar-driven, simple melody. This indirectly seems to convey the innocent hope that things will always work out, like they do in this song.

The following song slows things down in the form of a ballad, the simple, guitar and melody-driven “Learn to Swim”. The lyrics contain the same innocence, and is a good transition into the title track. Frisch explains how this song is about him leaving his hometown of Toronto for New York City to pursue his musical career. The melody is appropriately both hopeful for the future and melancholic for what is being left behind, a duality which is also reflected in the lyrics. I wish the production work on this song would have been a little lighter; instead of being endearing and enchanting, the attempt to make this song feel like it was recorded in the era it is inspired by weighs it down. It does make me look forward to hearing it live.

The album picks up with the upbeat, foot-stomping “Mary Ann”, another song about a girl – but this time, he not only gets the girl, but she seeks him out. It’s almost like the innocent boy from the first track has grown through the experiences in the second through the fourth tracks to become a bit of a chick magnet (even if he doesn’t get the girl that he initially sought)! It’s a little less innocent of a song though, perhaps appropriately seeing the overall coming of age story the album seems to be recounting. But in the spirit of the era that inspired him, Frisch keeps the lyrics at the level of sexual innuendo rather than going outright sexual. The song has a barn dance feel to it which is again quite appropriate, as the story it tells occurs at a barn dance. It comes as no surprise that the song has a country feel to it which can catch the listener off guard, but because the production again makes the song sound older than it is, and because of the story the album is telling, it fits in quite seamlessly with the rest of the songs.

The following “The Sun in Santiago” is the second-most Beach Boys-like song of the album after “Pretty Girls”. It features some horns that caught my attention (in a good way) and has a feel good, group-singing on the beach after sunset around a fire vibe. While not the best song of the album, its catchy rhythm and easy to remember lyrics draw you in and its cheer stays with you after the final note has been played.

The happy mood continues (appropriately so) in “Stick Around”, a more instrumental song that speaks of hope, perseverance, and optimism. It isn’t farfetched to imagine that at this point, the protagonist of the story the album is trying to recount has met a few obstacles in his attempts to achieve the goals he set to achieve when he said goodbye to his birdcage. But he continues to remain hopeful, which is also conveyed in the softer, more subdued “All Over Town”, which speaks of an eagerness to meet a romantic interest despite the underlying melancholy of previous, less than happy experiences.

The album ends on the reflective “Heaven Only Knows”, which speaks of how unpredictable life is. There is again a vein of hope shining through, in that while the protagonist doesn’t know the answers to the questions of will he get the job he wants or the girl he has his eyes on, things will work out. This song is catchy and infectious, with a “crowd” encouraging the singer along. It’s almost as if he and a large group of his friends are talking together at the end of summer, reminiscing about the good times they had, looking into the future, and encouraging each other with the hope of great things coming firmly set in their minds and hearts.

The album, which clocks in at a little over half an hour, features a set of nine catchy, uplifting tunes, despite the sometimes heavier topics it touches upon. Goodbye Birdcage is an album written by and for a younger generation that has grown up with their parents’ sounds of the 1950s and 1960s in the house, a generation looking to create a brighter future and keeping the flame of innocence, hope, and optimism alive in their hearts despite the much grittier world they live in today. The lighthearted sounds of the album make is a contender for summer barbeques and encounters on the beach. That Frisch played all the instruments it features is a reflection of his talent. I wonder what a second album, refined through a collaborative and consultative process that would influence positively Frisch’s strong foundation, would be like. Hopefully we will find out in time for the summer of 2015.

The album can be streamed in full on SoundCloud. More information about Eric Frisch is available on his website.

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