REVIEW: Birds of Tokyo – “Birds of Tokyo” – initial thoughts

Though I’m currently going through a self-imposed Facebook exile in order to get more school work done, the moment I heard about a stream of the new Birds of Tokyo album being made available to “fans” of the band, I had to get onto it! Luckily someone I know managed to quickly provide me with the appropriate details to access the stream (if you’re reading this, you know who you are, thank you!), and so I decided to take 40 or so minutes out of my day to tell you all about it.

Beginning with the ambient, relaxing, second single from the album, the title track “Plans” launches the album into something that feels incredibly different from their sophomore release “Universes”. Instead of the relatively heavy guitars of “Broken Bones”, “Plans” seems to be leaning in a poppier direction. But who’s complaining? Ian Kenny’s vocal melodies work just as well in this area as they do in his rockier work (which is more than evident in his work with Karnivool). It doesn’t feel like they’re pushing themselves in this direction either. From “Universes” it feels like an easy progression. Despite what some may claim, I really don’t feel like this is selling out at all. If this gets played on commercial mainstream radio, all the better in my opinion.

After “Plans” fades out, we’re reintroduced to “The Saddest Thing I Know”, the first single from the album. “The Saddest Thing…” lifts the album back into familiar territory with a groovy and prominent bass-line, overlayed with tremolo guitar lines.

“The Dark Side Of Love” is about exactly that, though despite it’s sullen subject matter, it’s not overbearing and weighty. Which is good, because if it were I feel it’d be a bit too much too soon. It moves along at a solid pace though, and it does a good job of reinforcing my confidence in  BoT’s ability to craft solid albums through and through, not opting for the easy path of singles and filler material.

“In The Veins Of Death Valley” isn’t as gloomy as it sounds, and it’s a good continuation on from “The Dark Side…”. This song isn’t clicking with me right now, so I’m hesistant to really say whether I like it or not. I think I’d rather just leave it.

Moving onto “Circles”, the album starts moving the way I thought it would. Though not as radio-friendly as “Plans”, it has a relaxing start to it, before bring in some churning palm-muted guitars. It shows that the band hasn’t merely focused on the upbeat, rockier side of things, musically. They’re bringing out tracks that contrast with each other, which is what can help make an album successful in the long term.

Though “Wild At Heart” brings out an interesting drumming pattern, and lightly sprinkled string lines, it hasn’t caught on me yet. It just seemed to pass me by. Though bear in mind, these are comments after a first listen. I’m pretty patient, so time will tell.

“The Gap” starts off with what feels like a monotonous guitar rhythm. Once the strings become sprinkled over the top it becomes more interesting though. The chorus builds the song up, but it’s the layered vocals, the bridge/coda near the end, and the thumping drums before the song fades out that stand this one out there.

“Murmurs” begins with a lightly picked guitar line before rocketing into a punchy chorus. The piano melodies in the back suit this song really well, and Kenny’s vocals sound particularly amazing on this. Lyrically so far this album seems at least on par with “Universes”, though I often find judging lyrical quality easier after quite a few listens. Sometimes it takes a while to see if they have a strong longevity.

“The Unspeakable Scene” begins lightly before abruptly introducing a jumpy guitar riff, which is complimented by the strings melodies in the background. This album certainly feels more symphonic than previous releases.

“Waiting For The Wolves” has a great chorus, but it easily slides into the description of any of the rockier songs mentioned. Still with that layer of strings, still with that thumping bass line. Featuring a line of “oh’s”, it feels like they try to reach anthemic heights but don’t quite get there. I’m sure it’ll be a hit to sing along to at gigs, but the feeling doesn’t quite translate to a studio format. None-the-less, it’s still an alright song.

With a title like “If This Ship Sinks (I Give In)” I was expecting something brilliant, and I got it. Not letting up in terms of pace for the first section, it then moves onto a descending piano line and sombre bridge, finally fading out to finish everything up.

Overall, the album feels solid and consistent at the very least, and those who fell in love with “Universes” will most likely adore this release. The side of BoT that they explore in slower, atmospheric numbers like “Circles” has gotta be the highlight for me. They just seem to set the mood so much more effectively than other tracks. I can’t praise Kenny’s vocal skills enough, and although they aren’t exactly an experimental or challenging band, they’ve got some good songs here. For me, “Universes” was solid, and has some infectious and brilliant songs, but overall as an album it didn’t quite stand the test of time. So far this one doesn’t have the equivalent of “Silhouettic” or “Broken Bones”, but “Plans” and “The Saddest Thing…” are completely different songs, and are well done in their own right. Time and longevity will no doubt be the real test for this album as well, but I can definitely see it hitting a few Australian end of year lists. For a first listen, it’s not bad at all.

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