Ardath by Birth Day

By: Derek Spencer

Ardath is as elusive an album title as I have encountered. A smattering of google searches reveals a British tobacco company as the only catalogued namesake, implying that Ardath is an album named either for it’s destructive and addictive qualities, or otherwise as reference to something personal and decidedly unobtainable. The impalpable name suits the 5-track EP all the same, perhaps augmenting the conceit of mysterious dystopia that LA-based musician Birth Day seems intent on summoning. Deconstructed pop pairs with discordant ambient on Birth Day’s unsettling 2016 debut.

Opener “Link’d” best demonstrates Birth Day’s palette, consisting of icy dissonance, glitched-out synths, and phantasmal filtered-vocals. Tension builds as the voice of yesterday’s fallen popstar rises in classic zombie fashion. On “Bedroom Jester”, Birth Day continues to play with distance and depth, as a single alto melody gives way to the croons of dozens of fettered specters, each presumably a fractured bit of singer/producer Sonya Lanelle Chávez.

The percussive elements of Ardath leave enough propulsion for listeners to dance, but only in the way that dancing can be a mental exercise: a way of answering a question or exploring a thought. With tracks like “blind” and “Seashore”, each clocking in around one minute and devoid of distinct rhythmic features, it’s easier to think of Birth Day as walking us through a process or along a path, as opposed to imagining that Chávez’s vision lies in any one place for long.

Demonstrating a surprising command over dynamics and composition, Birth Day will hopefully have the opportunity to flesh out her work on longer, more immersive releases. For now, Ardath serves as a seductive taste-test, successfully tempting listeners toward some unknown end.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Hunt ’em Up by Family First, Second Nature

By: Derek Spencer

The cleverly named, mysteriously manned, and LA-based Family First, Second Nature spits out dynamic post-hardcore tunes on their 2015 debut 4-track EP, Hunt ’em Up.

At its best, the album channels a traditional Gothic-Americana rock energy, expressed through pounding rhythms, hammered-on riffs, and Lovecraftian imagery.  Family First leads with their heaviest hitter, “Talley Marked”– a slightly disjointed but nonetheless propulsive anthem of violence and condemnation (“And tendrils spread until it left for dead the earth that held its breath and the planter’s hopes were all but choked”). “Dead Bird”, an acoustic-driven track about fraternal betrayal, sees the unnamed vocalist decry traditional values with whiny flair (“What’s the point in bravery?// Everything’s lost. I’ll watch you burn in hell with me”). “Bedouin Hearts” closes the EP, taking its place as the familiar polyrhythmic slow-burn about destructive love (“Early on we grew to hubris and left our guards wide open// Now the sound of our groans have grown grating”).

The line “a change of heart doesn’t change what you are” appears in both the first and final tracks, less like a bookend thesis and more like a reminder of circularity, frivolity, and the inevitability of identity. Family First forsakes intention and embraces visceral consequence, a compelling gesture toward a zero-sum game. At once plodding and rapid, the arc of the EP is that dream you can’t remember, but can still feel.

Yes, the repetitious Bible reference and horizontal song progression can give reason for pause, but Hunt ’em Up rewards the listener with a penchant for suspending slight incredulity. The melodies aren’t earworms, but the melancholy is contagious. In fact, a close reading of the lyrics does the listener a disservice; better to let the hyperbolic allegories fall by the wayside (as the line phrasings might indicate is the writer’s intention) and serve as blended ingredients in this coldly mixed and slowly served offering of destitute courage.