Dead Canaries – “Bird Peach”

Bird Peach cover art


Ah Jon Fink, Jon Fink, Jon Fink.

Like a grizzly and slightly mad, but not quite mad enough to be unlovable, 21st century superheroic musical Robin Hood, missing since early 2010, he pops up suddenly in the middle of an epic culminating battle sequence on the outskirts of the little village, his merry band of Dead Canaries, scattered here, there, and everywhere somewhere behind him.

I’ve spoken many times about my admiration of Jon and what he does, so I’ll not go over old ground, but “Who are these merry little helpers?” I hear you ask.

Well, to be honest, I don’t really know. If you download the album, there’s a looooong list of names and not much of a clue who they are and what they do. Some are familiar, such as Phillip the cat, who I’m sure I hear getting in the way and meowing in the background. Others are new to me; a mix of acolytes and collaborators, picked up by their pied-clarinet-piping leader.

But back to that battle. Just when all hope is gone, here comes Captain Fink with his shiny new record to save the day, and it’s called “Space Age Toa-”… no, back up a bit there, Tonto, it’s not called that at all. It’s called “Bird Peach”, obviously, because those are the twin recurring themes, right?

Only it wasn’t always called that. In fact, once upon a time, when all hope was lost and the bad guys were advancing down the only road in or out of this place, it wasn’t called anything at all. It was consigned to a drawer, or several folders on an overloaded computer toiling under the weight of all those sound files. I saw a screenshot once of a single song and it was mind-blowing. Jon had so many things happening that it seemed inconceivable that anyone, even he, could actually know what was going on anymore.

And yet somehow he did.

Whatever made him change his mind about releasing this record, the Dead Canaries’ fifth full-length since 2008, it was a good thing. Going backwards for a moment, “Flying Things Vs. Crawling Things” (2008) was a great beginning, “Something Else” (2009) was pure musical gold, “Modern Day Carpetbagger” (2010) was Pepper to “Something Else”‘s Revolver, and “Golden Sounds” (2010) was a strange, experimental side-dish with a few prize nuggets thrown in. (In hindsight, “Something Else” should probably have been called “Golden Sounds” and vice-versa.)

And now we arrive here and now with “Space A-”, shit, I mean “Bird Peach”. Is it better than “Something Else”? Well, it certainly comes close, so close that it’s probably too close to call at this early stage of aural digestion. Is it weirder than “Golden Sounds”? Well yes, it has noises and bloops in amongst the songs that sound like they just jumped out of an abstract painting and punched you in the face, so it’s unquestionably up there in the weirdness stakes. When the songs are ON… and there are several moments… they hit dizzying heights only hinted at in previous recordings. The opening title track is the perfect example, a psychedelic motown stomp, Jon’s drawling voice backed up with some anonymous celestial beings who he probably roped into singing by challenging them to a game of rigged pontoon. My favourite song on the record, “Eli, Oh Why” somehow manages to be both completely schizoid and super-catchy at the same time, a random collision of elements that work, spoken abstract words with lyrical religious undertones and sinister crooning. And the Beatlesque “Farmer’s Daughter” sounds like something that accidentally fell off 1971 and conveniently landed on the tail end of this record in 2012. It could only happen to Jon Fink.

The rest of the record is a menagerie of sound (!), Brian Wilson-esque in its idiosyncratic exploratory approach to song structure. The result is something much darker than say The Beach Boys’ “Smile”, and at times positively electronic (“I Wander Under Rolling Waves”), but more often there is a folky, even bluesy feel to tracks with banjos, fiddles, strings and strange percussion, and Real Burnouts cover thrown in for good measure (“Way Over There”). Jon himself considers the closing section of the album from “Old Time” onwards as “one of the best blocks of music I’ve done”… and who’s to argue with that? Taking “Farmer’s Daughter” out of the equation, the section in question it might not have the killer 7″ single that “Bird Peach” begins with, but it has a stripped back, eerie acoustic feel with some wonderful chord progressions, all as always captured with technical proficiency.

And so. The battle is won, the record got renamed and released, metaphors got jumbled, the poor people got paid, but their kids all got drowned in the river listening to “Bird Peach”, the Sheriff of Nottingham is pissed, and nobody knows where Fink escaped to, or even if he’s going to make another album again. The players disperse, the world continues to revolve, and we have some more Dead Canaries songs for as long as our precious little lives might last. Roll the credits and file out into the wintry night with your scarves pulled tight and the music in your step.