It’s one thing to mix some Neil Young and some M83 in an iTunes playlist, but who’d actually try to find a musical middle ground between the two, fusing the heartfelt honesty of the former with the limitless sonic possibilities of the latter? Such a combination might sound like a terrible idea, until you hear “I’ll Never Sleep Again,” the new album from San Francisco’s Birds & Batteries.
Mike Sempert started Birds & Batteries in Boston as a home recording project fueled by a desire to fuse synth and drum machine sounds with his love for rock and Americana music. Arriving in San Francisco in 2005 with an eighteen song demo, Sempert released the twelve track “Selections from…Nature vs. Nature” to positive reviews in 2006. Birds & Batteries toured regionally and nationally to support the record in various configurations, including one lineup featuring Sempert, current bandmate Brian Michelson on drums, a pedal steel guitar player and a laptop covering the synth duties.
In an age of increasing genre bending and blending, the band’s approach might not sound all that novel, but B&B make the most of their expansive sound palette, as synthesizers and slide guitars swirl and bounce off one another while live drums and drum machines offer alternately driving and skittish rhythms. The new album finds Sempert growing significantly as a songwriter, refining the band’s sound to more fully harmonize its otherwise disparate elements. It certainly helps that the band’s lineup has solidified into a tight four-piece including Michelson, Julie Thomasson and Jill Heinke, with additional contributions from members of fellow local bands Low Red Land, The Music Lovers and Snowblink.
One of my favorite tracks, “Turnstyles” is probably a good entry point to the B&B sound, since it’s one of the catchiest while still possessing many of the twists that make this band unique. Sempert sings with a earnestness reminiscent of Neil Young or Jeff Tweedy and this track’s synth-affected pop calls to mind some of the sunnier songs on Wilco’s “Summer Teeth.” While the song is great, alone it only hints at the density that “I’ll Never Sleep Again” possesses in full. It’s a record you need to listen to straight through and it consistently rewards repeated listens.
If the new album has increased the band’s profile, so too has its live show reached new levels. The live band retains some of the album’s density while emphasizing the individual songs. This blend of complexity and accessibility won a number of new fans at a recent show presented by The Bay Bridged and, after a sold out CD release party at Café du Nord, the band next plays on a great bill of San Francisco bands at the historic Great American Music Hall on August 25th.
“I’ll Never Sleep Again” sees its official national release on October 9th, although you can already purchase it on CDBaby and iTunes. In addition to the show at the Great American, the band has dates in the next few weeks in Southern California and a national tour in October. ♦
Great American Music Hall
859 OFarrell St San Francisco, CA Saturday, August 25, 2007 9:00 PM With Or, the Whale and Social Studies Cover: $12 All Ages
AjiSignal is a magazine
about new music in cities.