A Lot Like Birds – ‘DIVISI’

By Mark Johnson

Truly great pieces of art are direct translations of an artist’s soul and as a listener it can be painfully obvious when bands imitate emotion rather than transmitting what’s really dear to them. A Lot Like Birds’ 2013 release ‘No Place’ was definitely the former: a concept piece that recounted the emotional complexities of growing up in a family home, told through the metaphor of a living, breathing house. The narrative, together with the complex, technical, and aggressive yet melodic music, resulted in the band’s greatest achievement of their career.

Once we hear something we love, it’s natural to demand more of it, but to replicate such emotionally charged music, the musicians themselves need to be able to draw from the same inspiration. Since the release of ‘No Place’ chief songwriter Michael Franzino began indulging his melodic side with solo side-project Alone, and vocalist Cory Lockwood suffered the loss of his mother: two milestones events that changed the mindset of A Lot Like Birds and, inevitably, the band’s direction.

The change proved too severe for vocalist Kurt Travis, who consequently stepped away, and from the title ‘DIVISI’, it’s clear that the band appreciate how divisive this record could be for their fanbase as well. Travis’s absence is compensated in part by bassist Matt Coates, who contributes backing vocals throughout the record, but more substantially it’s offset by the colossal growth of Cory Lockwood.

Prior to this, the band’s fourth record, Lockwood’s vocals have been limited to screaming and spoken word, but ‘Always Burning, Always Dark’ introduces the superb investment he’s made in his voice. Lockwood’s mother had told him “you have a beautiful voice, you should sing more,” something he was never himself convinced by. As a tribute to her passing, Lockwood trained his voice, drawing out the potential that his mother identified. ‘DIVISI’ gives Lockwood the freedom to demonstrate his achievements and results are superb.

The minimalism and simplicity of the instrumentals on ‘The Sound of Us’ and ‘For Shelley (Unheard)’ is unfamiliar territory for A Lot Like Birds, but the space is filled in no small part by the excellent vocals. Lockwood’s ability to tell a story has never been in any doubt and now with the ability to produce soaring melodies, it offers him an entirely new medium to convey emotion through. ‘Trace the Lines’ is Lockwood’s crowning glory, the chorus managing to squeeze every drop of passion from his voice, and with Coates harmonising perfectly in the background, it’s a track that is sure to move even the most stubborn opponents of this new direction.

The softly played, alt-rock atmosphere of the album’s opening half lets the vocals breathe and take the spotlight, but as ‘DIVISI’ moves into its second stage, the record becomes much more experimental and thus more identifiable as A Lot Like Birds. The keyboards, sauntering groove and interesting guitar tone of ‘Good Soil, Bad Seeds’ closely resembles The Dear Hunter and ‘From Moon to Son’s 5/4 pattern and intricate guitar lick starts to tie the new sound back to the band’s core aesthetic.

Whether it’s dealing with the departure of Kurt Travis from the band, distancing themselves from their former genre, or struggling to deal with the loss of a loved one; the theme of separation runs through the core of this record. While all of these moving parts are chaotic, conflicting and difficult to process at first, out of it all has arisen something beautiful and moving.

The album’s first half celebrates how far Lockwood has come as a vocalist, but the second half emphasises just how vast the creative arsenal of A Lot Like Bird has now become. The dark beginning of the title track teases some harsh vocals from Lockwood and it remains to be seen whether in the future we’ll hear more of this effect as part of a wide-ranging creative toolkit. This prospect, along with the ever impressive instrumental capabilities of the band, makes the future of A Lot Like Birds an extremely exciting proposition.

MARK JOHNSON

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