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Music Review: House of Badger – Death Birds

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Put the words ‘experimental’ and ‘psychedelic’ on an album's release and I have to admit that curiosity will always get the better of me. In this case, I am so glad that it did.

Rather than kill the cat it has added to my musical world by opening my eyes to something rather special. The bizarrely named House of Badger are from Portland, Oregon and their self released album Death Birds has arrived. Be careful though, there is a great chance that this may slip under your musical radar – and it really shouldn’t.

The band consist of Amanda Kelly (lead voice, guitar, keys, mandolin, and even a Turkish saz), Charlie Gallipeau (bass, vocals, moog and theremin) and last, but most definitely not least, Liam McNamara (drums and percussion). Apparently the live shows are a heady combination of music and visual imagery, art styling and psychedelia. I only wish I could get to see it.

Death Birds is a highly accomplished, seductively compelling and superbly performed album deserving of a higher accolade than this modest columnist can give it. Fronted by Amanda Kelly, who possesses a wonderful rich and smooth voice, House of Badger combine together to produce some simply irresistible and intoxicating music that is highly effective. They range from shades of the psychedelic San Francisco sixties (Jefferson Airplane) through melodic pop and experimental rock and never once take their collective finger off the pulse.

Astute enough to let the music speak for itself, they never overstay their welcome or overplay their contributions. They leave just the right amount of space and room at just the right time and places. It is all held together by the excellent percussion work of Liam McNamara who not only copes with some tricky time changes but moves the whole album forward keeping it utterly fascinating in the process.

Tracks such as the opening “Vultures”, “Away”, and “Darkness is Light”, a track with a lush eastern vibe and shades of Grace Slick, create a superb visual atmosphere. “Away” has a simple yet hypnotic guitar chime, and “You Give Yourself Away” goes power pop with Amanda’s voice shining at the front. “Death Birds in Trees” is haunting and sensual with an immediacy that maybe a bigger studio may have tinkered with and lost. “Into the Sun” veers from commercial towards the edgy and back building around a central, lush theme. “Dragonfly Machines (Spy Birds)” ends the album with some wonderful musicianship.

This is an album that for some reason was self released. I have no idea why Death Birds was not picked up by a label but I am also kind of glad that it wasn’t. There is a freshness, a belief, a commitment and an intimate immediacy to this album that sets it apart and places it higher. So my advice, for what it’s worth, is to never be put off by the word experimental.  After all if we had been, the sixties would never have happened and I’d be writing this by quill.

For more information about House of Badger, visit their website.

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About Jeff Perkins