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Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Name of this Band Is ________

Posted by Andrew Stout on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Please join us in welcoming newest End Hits contributor Andrew Stout. Here are his thoughts on a Swedish group with an unwieldy name, and the possibility of a New Weird Scandinavia.

It takes an unwavering confidence in one's tastes to hype a band called Wildbirds & Peacedrums. And yet, many have. Tonight, the very poptastic Lykke Li will do us one better when she brings the duo to the Hawthorne where they will open for their fellow Swede. If this sounds like a flash gig for an enigmatic husband-and-wife duo from the Scandinavian sticks, that's because it is. But judging by their records, it could have been so much more. Without a doubt, tonight Wildbirds should be headlining the Crystal. But the worst moniker in indie rock is holding them back. That's why I'm calling on you, Dear Procrastinator, to help re-name this extraordinary group.

First, I recommend giving them a listen. For the skeptical among you, breaking down the wall erected by Wildbirds's off-putting boho name works like this: On first contact, you notice how their lack of a recognizable style isn't a self-conscious anti-style. That, in itself, is remarkable. Sure, the songs on Heartcore, the Swedish duo's debut, are cacophonous in the way Rough Trade Records used to be, back during its post-punk days of contrarian mess-esthetics (when its roster included the Raincoats and a ramshackle Scritti Politti). But what Wildbirds share with those groups and that period is more an ethic than a sound. They take a year-zero approach and try to preempt this conversation I've started, laden, as it is, with the past. Their first move away from glib genre-spotting? They limit the music to two elements, voice and drums.

"To get that heavy blanket of history and knowledge off your shoulders," drummer Andreas Werlin said in the band's bio, "was the best music experience of our lives." On Heartcore's opener, "Pony," vocalist Mariam Willentin and Werlin filter this elation into their performance, rhythm and melody be damned. Not only is it fascinating, it works in that improbable way labelmate Colleen's last album, Les Ondes Silencieuses (played almost exclusively on an old-timey variation of the cello) also worked. It's magic achieved through will, not sleight-of-hand through cleverness.

The album proceeds in line with the duo's own development, each track a little more musically articulate than the last. By the fourth number, "I Can't Tell in His Eyes," they've achieved a semblance of pop. Here they combine the lyrical pith of Rogers and Hart with the melodic extravagance of Jens Lekman. The synthesis holds up for four perfect minutes before the album proceeds towards the distinctly bluesy tune, "The Window." This great reveal might offer the biggest clue to placing Wildbirds's sound. Maybe theirs is just a peculiarly Nordic take on Americana—Harry Smith, lost in translation. Are Willentin and Werlin here to bring on the New Weird Scandinavia?

Though limiting your material to vocals and percussion might be a neat party trick, Wildbirds' strengths lie beyond mere ingenuity. By basing their sound on the drumset, utilizing the its surfaces' variety — its woods, metals and plastics — the duo reach a place any conscientious musician wants to be, a plateau of unaffected expression.

Now, if they would only reconsider that atrocious band name. Anybody have any suggestions? Me? I like "Joanna Newsomsson."

Wildbirds & Peacedrums play tonight with Lykke Li at the Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE 39th, 9 pm, $20, all ages.

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