Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds - I'd Rather Die Than Live Forever (DyingScene Review)

This review was originally published on DyingScene.

Six years. That’s how long it’s been since The Lawrence Arms released their last full length, Oh! Calcutta!. The band’s 2009 EP, Buttsweat and Tears, was a nice stopgap, but since then fans have had a whole lot of waiting to get their proper Lawrence Arms fix. Yes, there was the second Sundowner album, and the Wasted Potential split between Brendan Kelly and Smoke or Fire’s Joe McMahon, and even Neil Hennessy’s drumming on the latest Smoking Popes album, but none of them have been the suitable follow up that the world has been waiting for these past six years.

Enter: Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds, the newest project from the raspy voiced bassist / blog enthusiast. Does it fill the aforementioned void that is the lack of new Lawrence Arms material? Short answer: Yes and no. Long answer: I’d Rather Live Than Die Forever comes closer to sounding like the Lawrence Arms than any other side project this side of the Falcon, but at the same time it is still a side project and where’s the fun in having a side-project if there’s no experimentation involved?

The album starts with the electric version of Suffer the Children, Come Unto Me, the acoustic rendition of which appeared on the Wandering Birds’ teaser EP from last year and was arguably the strongest track in that small collection. As the case for most electric versions of songs, there is a new sense of energy found in the track, and the hook comes out swinging immediately. Showing off a slight country tinge on this track, Kelly sings with more of a not-so-Southern drawl than his usual raspy style, not unlike his vocal performance on Oh! Calcutta!’s hidden track, Warped Summer Extravaganza.

Sonically, Kelly and his band of traveling fowls explore a variety of ground on I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever. Fans of Kelly’s raspy voiced punk rock will be pleased by the Lawrence Arms-esque tunes, Doin’ Crimes and What’s a Boy to Do?, while tracks like East St. Louis and Your Mother carry on the spirit of the Falcon. Those looking for something new might enjoy the slow grind of A Man with the Passion of Tennessee Williams (an alternate take of the EP’s titular track) or perhaps just the general slower tempos of Dance of the Doomed and Latenightsupersonicelasticbags. Even the country flavor of the opening track is continued, and even more pronounced, on Ramblin’ Revisited, while Kelly goes all out acoustic on The Thud and the Echo.

Lyrically, Kelly’s techniques on I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever are both exactly the same as his previous work in the Lawrence Arms (and some of the less politically-charged Broadways songs), and completely unlike what he’s done before. The songs are still loaded with tons of pop culture references and it would be impossible to catch all of them without having the lyrics, although even then some references still might go over your head. Yet, absurd allusions to our society aside, Kelly himself has gone on record that many of these songs are outside his usual comfort zone – a songwriting experiment that he picked up from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong – and that many of the song’s lyrics explore the dark places that the human mind can go when under stress and pressure. This might not be readily apparent, although a close listen to the lyrics, particularly Doin’ Crimes, will reveal that the stories told in these songs aren’t quite as fun or lighthearted as some of their melodies might make them out to be.

Not too long after he announced his intentions for this new project, Kelly made sure to clarify that the album wouldn’t be “‘punk’ so much as punk influenced rock” and he wasn’t lying. There’s no doubt that the fans will be divided on this one, which is something that’s to be expected when it comes to a side project. I’d Rather Die Than Live Forever is an enjoyable combination of familiar sounds and new experiments from the Chicago punk veteran. It still isn’t that exact Lawrence Arms album that the world has been waiting on, but it’s definitely a good way to tide the fans over until then (or at least until their long-awaited DVD, An Evening of Extraordinary Circumstance, finally comes out).

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