The doom bird and the buffalo
Last weekend I went to Old Ironsides, a fine old bar in downtown Sacramento, to see DoomBird, a new band that’s been making some seriously wonderful noise in these parts. I’d seen the last three or four songs in a set by the same band a week before, at Luigi’s Fun Garden, which left enough of an aftertaste that I made it a big priority to get down to Old I on Saturday. And having a copy of the the band’s unreleased album really helped convince me of the wisdom of that decision.
I’ll make no bones about my love for Baroque pop music. Brian Wilson is still my number-one guy in the record-making department, with the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, along with Smile, which Wilson reconstituted from a cancelled 1967 Beach Boys release. Van Dyke Parks’ 1968 album Song Cycle is another favorite, along with Randy Newman’s skein of Reprise albums in the late 1960s and early ’70s. And I love all those Jimmy Webb songs that people like Glen Campbell were covering. Not to mention more obscure SoCal Baroque sides like “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius.
So, well, I just have to go on and on with how completely knocked out and bowled over by this 10-song album from DoomBird that someone passed my way, which I’m presuming is self-titled. This is a great album. To nick what David Watts Barton said a year ago about Christian Kiefer, Jefferson Pitcher and Matthew Gherkin’s sprawling song cycle about the American presidents, Of Great and Mortal Men, I think this may be the greatest thing to ever come out of this town, musically speaking. I don’t like to blather with the hyperbole like a dog slobbering over a nearby steak dinner, but homina homina, this thing is fucking brilliant.
The album opens with a bit of plainsong, songwriter Kris Anaya singing over a fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure juxtaposed with an electric on “Crooked Heart,” with cellos and flutes. Very Beatle-like, with sweet little dissonances popping up for nice flavoring. “Naked” follows, a stunning track that rides on a shimmering wave of orchestration anchored by a piano, with oscillating instruments out of the Steve Reich or Philip Glass playbook rolling under the incredibly catchy “Too many mistakes have ripped off all of my clothes” chorus. Jeebus, two songs in and I’m thoroughly enamored. It’s like Animal Collective meets Smile. A trippy instrumental figure in the middle, a fake fade, and then the chorus comes back in. Third song is “Petty Lies,” which lopes along like Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” with acoustic guitar, with angelic backup vocals. The song stops and starts, with a simple orchestral interlude that’s Van Dyke Parks meets Ennio Morricone, and then the guitar and organ: “There’s no place for me in your life/ I can’t beg you for mercy/ You told me not to try.” Fuck. Devastating. “Sick of Fighting” has an andante pizzicato thrust, driven by what sounds like a harpsichord. “If the candle burns at both ends, which flame will burn out?” Anaya asks. “Are you running scared?” There’s a lot of space in the track, which coalesces into heaviness on the chorus, and there’s more of that Sergio Leone-movie guitar and organ. I really love what follows: “Mood Ring” opens with cello and flute, which flower into a string quartet, an effect that’s beautiful and dreamlike. “I would walk for miles to hear you sing,” Anaya sings in a gentle melodic figure that soars upward in Wilsonesque fashion. But it’s the way the track finishes that’s truly jaw-dropping; after a very nice, sailing-into-the-sunset melodic vocal tag comes a string arrangement that rises from the ocean like Botticelli’s Venus.
So that’s the end of what would be side one; side two begins with “Receive,” a slow-moving track that stops and starts like a throwaway from David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, then bursts into an atmospheric stomp toward the end. Again, a simple figure rendered profound: “We can grow if we receive,” Anaya sings. A bass clarinet signals an imaginative brass and percussion arrangement on “Meant to Be,” a fairly short track that moves slowly beneath Anaya singing his wishes for a bucolic existence. Very Randy Newman. Dunno if the next track is called “Loose Fur” or “Lucifer,” but it’s a dreamlike waltz that’s been rattling around in my head for a week, until I finally realized its melody reminded me of Grant Lee Buffalo, or the kind of John Lennon-meets-early Elton John thing Grant-Lee Phillips might write. Then, “Shape of Hearts,” a dirge with a plaintive, minor-key, almost Japanese melody and a spare but exotic arrangement. “I don’t want to beg for you, I can’t hold my promise/ I don’t want to beg for you, I can’t hold my pride,” Anaya sings. Incandescent. That song segues into the closer, “Cruel Mistake,” which makes for a pretty transcendent way to go out: gentle guitar, a little organ, Anaya’s voice singing one of the record’s most winning melodies. Then the track builds, with background vocals. “Just give me a little sign/ I’ll leave myself behind.” Then, the fade. Beautiful.
It’s a short record, clocking in at a little over 35 minutes for 10 songs. But with music this good, who says you need a double album with a die-cut gatefold cover to make your point? And while I never caught the bug of An Angle, Anaya’s previous band, I’m going to have to revisit everything that band did as a result of this one. And one more point: Anaya’s a brilliant songwriter, but I’m told Joe Davancens did the arrangements, which are nothing short of masterful. He’s like Ben Mink to Anaya’s k.d. lang, a comment that will make sense if you’ve ever heard lang’s 1990 album Ingenue.
I think I can confidently say that this gets my vote for the best album of 2010, by anybody, anywhere. I can’t imagine anyone topping this, and if they do, it will be a very, very good year for music. It’s the kind of record I wish I could walk into Lenny Waronker’s and Mo Ostin’s office at the Warner/Reprise ski chalet circa 1975, lay this on their desks and say, “Lads, have you had your massive musical boners today? Because, boy, do I have a treat for you. Here.”
I do hope this comes out for public consumption, and soon. Because you’re just going to melt. —Jackson Griffith