Birds of Tokyo are a band that never stand still, never rest on their highly successful laurels, they do something very different with each release. It’s challenging to their listeners, but it’s obviously the way they wish to create their music and run their career.
The band’s most recent three releases are a case in point. The radio friendly pop-rock anthems of last full lengther, 2013’s March Fires, gave way to a massive step into left field on the quirky but compelling little four track EP of last year, Anchor, which was very electronically-driven. Almost dubsteppy at times, it worked a treat.
Now, they bring their fifth LP Brace. Pre-release, the band were heralding it as a ‘heavy’ release. In the greater scheme of things, it’s not particularly ‘heavy’, but it certainly is, relative to previous releases. And ‘heavy’ doesn’t necessarily strictly mean grinding, down-tuned guitars and thundering drums, metal-style. A broader perspective on the term can mean a darker tone and deeper, heavier subject matter being dealt with in the lyrics and imagery. Check out second single ‘Empire’ and its accompanying video, which make strong statements about many of the issues we face as a race, intolerance, inequality, war, terrorism, environmental issues, political corruption and so forth. It encourages the listener to question what he or she is being told by politicians and the mainstream media, which in this day and age of ‘post-truth’ and fact-free politics and opinion is more important now than ever.
There are certainly still sprinklings of eerie atmospherics and that electronica introduced on the Anchors EP, on ‘Pilot’ and ‘Above/Below’, and in the context of the darker and more hard-hitting rock of the rest of the album, it again works beautifully, lending the album very welcome dynamism and variety.
Epic closer ‘Mercy Arms’ also juxtaposes an electronic vibe with sweeping, grandiose soundscapes, with Ian Kenny’s sweet, forthright voice shining like a beacon.
Knowing this band’s history, I don’t think Brace bespeaks of any kind of full-blown ‘return to their rock roots’ type change of direction. It is merely what they felt like doing this time around. The next album could very well be avant-garde jazz or alt-country, if they so desire.
Birds of Tokyo have sewn another different coloured, shaped and textured piece of material into the multi-faceted patchwork quilt that is their career. Brace is certainly creatively successful, and their fans are obviously a highly open-minded lot, unquestioningly following them through the relentless twists and turns that the band takes them on, so one must expect that commercial success will inevitably follow.
Reviewer: Rod Whitfield