Did you miss us? We missed you. I guess I’m going by “we” now, which may be the result of the time-space distortion that seems to be the norm for most of us, but the important thing is that Rainbows is back from an unanticipated leave, and we’ve got more post-punk/noise rock goodness for you courtesy of Houston, Texas, newcomers Baby Birds and their debut offering An Olive Branch Wrapped in Barbed Wire, which turns out to be anything but the typical post-punk affair. It’s Rainbows in the Dark, bringing you the best of all things non-metal and metal-adjacent.
Baby Birds is an amalgamation of stoner metal stalwarts Funeral Horse and new wavers Right Speaker Heavy, which should immediately give you an idea of what this album sounds like. It’s not the jangly, danceable post-punk we’ve been more accustomed to over here. Shimmering, arpeggiated chords ringing out into space have been replaced by dense, thick layers of saturated distortion over relatively simplistic drum machine patterns, repeating ad infinitum under yelped and barked vocals. Way more Big Black than The Cure, way more no wave than new wave, An Olive Branch takes heavy influence from the stoner metal half of its lineage and uses that as the sauce that drowns the dance beats and punky nature of new wave in a thick blanket of noise and feedback. It works to an extent, but while the textures on the album are fantastic and the sense of atmosphere is enveloping, there is a lot of sameness inherent in the trick of soaking everything in distortion. The drums don’t change throughout the song, the guitars are usually playing variations on the same theme in and between songs, and the vocals are buried under so much noise that it’s hard to pick them out as a focal point. Maybe you don’t need to, maybe that’s not the point, since this is noise rock after all, but I find that the lack of movement in the songs makes it hard to pick out singular points that stand out throughout the whole listen. It’s interesting, but it’s not something that I find very memorable at the end of the day.
One of the tracks I do find that stands out on An Olive Branch is the Talking Heads-esque (not just because of the title) lead single “An Interview With Destroyed Buildings.” This is definitely the most melodic song on the album, thanks in large part to the guitar hooks in the chorus, and the vocals are mixed a little higher than elsewhere, which allows them to better cut through the dense fog of overdrive. “Divine Beasts” is an interesting, albeit lengthy, interlude as well, a full-on percussion piece backed up by brooding synths led by Lisa, percussionist and drum machine-ist. The real meat and potatoes of the album are tracks like “Don’t Tell Me How To Die” and “Prison Tape,” short and punky jams that feature angular riffs, harsh tones, tons of feedback and simple drum loops holding it all down. It’s a good, sonically interesting formula, and the shorter songs on the album tend to keep my attention.
The album really drags when it doesn’t know when to cut and run though. Case in point, the final track, “Waves of Luminous Bodies,” which is 20 minutes of the same riff repeated over and over until the song just sort of ends. Maybe it’s because I don’t have access to the recommended…let’s say “accessories” that would make this a more enjoyable experience, but I feel like it’s wholly unnecessary and doesn’t add much to the final product. It’s hypnotic, but in a way that feels like I’ve been cheated out of an unnecessary amount of time rather than a transcendental experience. There’s just nothing to it and it goes directly against the parts of this album that I like.
Overall, An Olive Branch Wrapped in Barbed Wire is an interesting experience, if a little unfocused. Stoner vibes aside, I’d love if the next release was tighter and more to-the-point, because I feel like that’s where An Olive Branch shines brightest. There’s a way to balance out the thick atmosphere with punch and shots of melody, and the band achieves this in spurts here, and it shows that they’re committed to the artistry and aesthetic as well as the music. Give it a listen if you’re a fan of either Funeral Horse or Right Speaker Heavy (or both) and if you like it, check out the sweet cassette package they have for sale.
An Olive Branch Wrapped in Barbed Wire is out now on Artificial Head Records. For more information on Baby Birds, visit their Facebook page.