Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Musical Revue: State Bird - Mostly Ghostly

If you were to take the fantastical storytelling of Neutral Milk Hotel, the reckless spirit of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the folk sensibilities of Iron and Wine, the stoic brilliance of Sufjan Stevens, and the short attention span of The Unicorns, toss them all into a cauldron, season the mixture with ukuleles, tape loops, trumpets, toy pianos and all sorts of other things that go dink, ping, or bang! - you would end up with a delicious batch of "Mostly Ghostly" by Ohio-born celebrants of music, life, and the sun, State Bird. Released by Kansas City-based record label The Record Machine, this follow up to State Bird's 2006 debut "Marching Thru The Wilderness" delivers much more than the complimentary blue rasperry Airhead I got when I ordered it through the mail. It delivers the very definition of "eclectic."

Smattered with surprisingly candid moments (i.e. the end of "The Hollerin Mountains" when the group carries on, laughing and joking about the song they just played, or the impromptu campfire song tagged on the tail of "Ghost King Pt. 2" that sounds as if it were recorded accidentally), this album sheds all robes of pretention and beams with a playful spirit not found in the angst-ridden sobfests that many mainstream musicians are whipping out these days. After opening with a lone whistler accompanied by nothing more than an accordion (they even flub the tune, whisper "try it again," and count it off for a second try), the album then breaks out in jovial fashion with the delicate yet ear-catching ukulele intro to "I Saw The Light," one of the LP's strongest selling points and a more than ample introduction to what this band is capable of. If the group chants and brass background melodies of the first minute and a half don't grab you, then the call and response section where the band calls to their leader by name, "Oh but Coby don't you know that's a lot to let go," to which Coby Hartzler replies, "I know, I know, I know," will certainly make you stick around, for better or worse, just to see what tricks they will pull out next.

And tricks they do not fail to provide, but that's not to say this disc relies on gadgets and gimmicks to stay afloat. There is true substance beneath the hoots and hollers. In addition to the multiple melodic motifs that pop up throughout, a running narrative carries the course of the album with textual themes like blinding sunlight, woods full of dangerous bears and a recurring character called the "Ghost King." Their natural nack for storytelling is equally paired with their ability to make, simply put, great music, a skill displayed most evidently in the dark and driving dirge of "The Golden Glowing Mask." Finding its foundation in a simple, two-chord drone, the tune's slow and steady swell from lamenting lullaby to rousing rally cry sends chills up the spine, tears to the eyes and makes you want to embrace those you love and forge battle against all who mean them harm. The kind of song that makes you fall in love with the power of music all over again.

And fall in love you will. Once your toes stop tapping, stop smiling, stop laughing, and "Mostly Ghostly" has run its course, you, like me, will wonder, "Does the sun shine brighter in Ohio?"

State Bird - I Saw The Light
State Bird - The Golden Glowing Mask

Buy "Mostly Ghostly" on
State Bird on Myspace!
State Bird Official Website