With the album I’ll Never Sleep Again, Bay Area band Birds and Batteries incorporate elements of experimental electronica, raucous heaviness and classic country twang.
The album opens with a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” Singer Mike Sempert’s treatment of the tune is slow and dreamy, seeming to float along on a faraway cloud. The song transitions directly into the instrumental piece “Jungles (Oceans).”
Though much of the album meanders along at a drowsy pace, a few tracks stand out in terms of keeping the energy up. “Ocarina” and “After a Flood” are both pretty groovy that way.
“Star Clusters” feels otherworldly, in terms of both music and lyrics. Automated drumbeats and methodical electronic weavings propel the song forward. The weighty electronic layers and melodic current are reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s dark and heavy style. The lyrics combine scientific tidbits with human reaction to such giant, abstract concepts:
“Out there in the open/ Where the big things happen slowly/ I can feel it coming towards me/ I’m like a skater in a crack the whip.” I like the way the lyrics juxtapose enormous celestial bodies and us, tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Another fast-paced offering is “Turnstyles,” with its pleasantly poppy flow and upbeat trombone accompaniment. The lyrics seem innocuous enough until you start thinking that maybe there’s some cryptic message involved, only because Birds and Batteries seems like a group of folks who would find it especially humorous to embed cynical commentary in such a sunny bundle:
“I’m finding out every time, that I shine a brand-new dime/Or when I go through the turnstiles and the tokens cycle back again …” It seems tongue-in-cheek, though I can’t put my finger on why. Then there’s the title of the song, a play on the word “turnstiles.”
Is this some existential commentary on the cycles of life events? On the futility of struggle? Perhaps a compliment to the sentiments expressed in “Star Clusters”? All cloaked in a peppy, poppy tune? I hope so.
The songs on I’ll Never Sleep Again have a couple of things in common. First, the lyrics hint at existential musings and/ or social commentary (perhaps this explains the attraction to “Heart of Gold”?). Second, the compositions are deceptively simple. If you listen closely, you’ll hear a complicated symphony of sounds, brought to you courtesy of a large variety of musicians and instruments.
Birds and Batteries is a difficult act to categorize. It’s quite easy to get bogged down in the drowsy pace of some of the tracks. But for those willing to give it a real listen, I’ll Never Sleep Again offers clever lyrics and sophisticated musical fusion.