Sometimes life gets in the way of good music. When the Thumbs disbanded in 2003, Mike Hall and Bobby Borte needed a new outlet. They formed Sick Sick Birds, but families and education have slowed the bands production, leading them to release their first full-length in 2008.
Heavy Manners isnt a far stretch from their previous band, but Sick Sick Birds are their own project and should be judged as such. While the voices and songwriting are familiar, Sick Sick Birds incorporate influences from 70's rock to indie. At their heart, and mostly on their sleeve too, the band fits under the pop-punk umbrella. Its just that bands like this tend to make that umbrella grow. The song structures are more complicated and the guitars have greater variation, but whenever I hear Halls voice, Im immediately brought back to those screaming Thumbs days.
It may partly be association from prior works, but something in his voice is perfect for a pop-structured, wounded and angry outlet of a song. While the backing instrumentation accentuates the mounting frustration that Heavy Manners songs represent, Halls voice is what carries them. The frustration that he bleeds is done through nuance: Hall isnt screaming himself hoarse - not by a longshot. Rather, his vocals express an aggression that is bubbling beneath the surface. On the record, he never opens up and lets go, but wavers along the threshold and utilizes that tension itself. This would make for an exhausting experience, where it not for the bands exceptional harmonizing, with Melissa Jacobsens voice offering a smooth and quiet contrast to Halls lead, with Jacobsen playing something of a Kim Deal role. While the pop-punk structure and tempo is the format, the bands real strength lies with their vocals. The call and response trade-offs between members are well-suited to the members voices, complementing one another and maintaining an energetic flow.
Side one of the record is generally a more jangly, pop-punk feel with positive tones. On Side two, the influence expands a more on the quirky side, and unifying the record throughout is a classic rock backbone that makes me think of The Used Kids. Heavy Manners may only be eight songs, but its taken Sick Sick Birds years to put them on wax. Fans should grab this while they can, crossing their fingers that the band will find the time for future releases.
Posted Jan. 12, 2014, 7:33 p.m.
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