For those not in the know, Music for Dead Birds is the Galway based anti-folk duo consisting of guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Monaghan and drummer Dónal Walsh. Formed seven years ago, they released their debut “And Then It Rained For Seven Days” in 2009 — a mini-album of lo-fi, acoustic-based songs. Since then, they have gone on to release their sophomore album “The Pope’s Sister” – which was somewhat of a departure from their humble, rustic beginnings – as well as a couple of EPs and compilation album appearances.
“Vitamins” is the latest offering from Music for Dead Birds; one which sees them fuse their established folkish influences with grunge-like muffed distortion while maintaining a sense of sparsity and minimalism — yet at the same time offering a more polished sound to their debut.
The results, however, prove inconsistent. For every great idea and moment on the album, there are as many that highlight the band’s limitations.
The album puts its best foot forward on the first track, Forever Wasted, opening with gently plucked acoustic guitars before kicking into overdrive and demonstrating the band’s keen sense of soft-loud dynamics. The song is in essence a folk song with grunge instrumentation, featuring somewhat fabled lyrics coupled with angsty, melodramatic overtones; driven by a heavy, memorable riff and passionate vocal delivery. At just under two and a half minutes, however, it feels just a little too short.
The same can be said for several tracks throughout the album (Magic Witch, Churchbells, I Could See It, Penitentiary and closing track A Better View, to name but a few).
Forever Wasted is succeeded by It’s Fine, which falls somewhere between Faust Arp from Radiohead’s 2007 opus “In Rainbows” and Led Zeppelin’s softer moments, sonically. A positive, life-affirming track, it manages to get by on it’s feel-good factor despite a clumsy transition from a quiet first verse to a loud finish.
Towards the middle, there are some filler tracks. While Dead Pets is admittedly a nagging tune, it sounds like just about every post-grunge song you’ve ever heard, with lyrics that don’t offer much to analyse (“Get lost/When your pets are dead/And their blood is red/But you don’t like blood…”).
Churchbells‘ opening riff leaves you expecting a straight ahead rocker but the sloppy drums drag the track’s potential energy through the mud. I Could See It, for all it’s good riffage, is once again simply too short a track to leave a lasting impression. Furthermore, for the very same reason, A Better View fails to give the album any real sense of closure.
“Vitamins” does have it’s rewarding moments, though. The Farmer’s Corn is a truly encapsulating track which despite a single lyrical hiccup (a misguided simile in “the girl was like an apple/she was poisoned to the core”), tells an interesting tale about an extra-marital encounter gone wrong. Right Eye Open and Penitentiary are almost bluesy numbers that bring Monaghan’s talents as a vocalist and guitarist to the fore, as he sings over intricate guitar lines.
Though “Vitamins” is a flawed project, it does warrant the attention of fans of folk, rock and alternative music alike — especially those already familiar with the anti-folk movement. “Vitamins” does have its moments. Its major flaw, however, is its inconsistency and lack of cohesion. On this particular outing, Music for Dead Bird have produced more of a collection of songs than an album.