Circle of Birds by Circle of Birds (Review)

This may be one of the most beautiful things Burnt Toast Vinyl has released to date.
ST, Circle of Birds

The rumors about Circle of Birds have been circling (npi) for over a year now. I first heard rumblings in the spring of 2001, shortly around the time that Ester Drang’s Goldenwest came out. I saw it on websites, read about it on web boards, heard about it from friends… all of which did nothing to curb my interest. But what else would you expect with a collaboration involving members of Ester Drang, Unwed Sailor, and Lasso? And now that it’s here, I can’t help but be disappointed.

Not because the music is bad, mind you. On the contrary, this may be one of the most beautiful things Burnt Toast Vinyl has released to date. But 17 minutes?!? Come on guys, you’re killing me!

The album opens with a spiralling piano melody not unlike the one that begins Goldenwest. Distant drums, airy synths, and vibes underscore the piece as it slowly, inevitably builds to a climax. Very breathtaking and cinematic, you can’t help but picture a movie scene that it would be ideal for as a soundtrack. (For my money, it would be a scene of reconciliation, as the piece has a real sense of completion and redemption.)

The titular track continues this mood as well, slowly building until the bassline and drums finally kick in, propelling the piece onwards and upwards while a haunting guitar drone beckons off in the distance. If you can imagine Just For a Day-era Slowdive collaborating with Spiritualized (if you dare imagine such a thing), this might be pretty close to the outcome.

After the haunting atmospherics of the first two tracks, the distorted bluesy guitar riff of “Good Fortune at Harbor Tonight” might come as a bit of a shock. So much so, that when I first heard it I was tempted to see if someone hadn’t accidentally replaced the CD. The guitar melody feels completely out of place… until it’s replaced with a ghostly keyboard melody and gentle vibes. Although the song gets off to a shaky start, it all soon coalesces into a beautiful mess of guitar drones, gentle vibes, and Unwed Sailor-esqe basslines.

Given the fact that 9 people collaborated on this disc, it feels surprisingly cohesive. If any of the bands involved seem especially noticeable, it would be Ester Drang, but that’s only because of the album’s atmospheric nature. There’s a gentle, relaxed feel throughout the songs, one that makes this disc a joy to listen to. And, according to new rumors, there might be more on the way. Based on this disc’s strength, I hope the circle keeps enlarging.

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