Birds & Batteries
The marriage of American roots music and art rock is a tricky union. For every happy coalition (Wilco and Sparklehorse come readily to mind) there are countless shaky alliances that simply bear no fruit. San Francisco's Birds & Batteries is a rare example of a band that blends these two disparate genres quite successfully.
Birds & Batteries came together when main songwriter Mike Sempert moved from New England to San Francisco and met drummer Brian Michelson. The pair began experimenting with a laptop to flush out some songs and added keyboardist Julie Ann Thomasson and bassist Jill Heinke to the line-up for live shows. The group began gigging around the SF Bay area and released Nature Vs Nature in 2005 to favorable reviews.
Sophomore release "I'll Never Sleep Again" was recorded by Ian and Jay Pellicci (Deerhoof, Erase Errata) at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studios. Produced and arranged by Sempert, the album was released in late 2007 and received serious attention for the inclusion of an off-kilter cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold". Fittingly, rollingstone.com compared the album to Young's synth-laden "Trans", an art rock experiment by one of alt-country's godfathers.
On the new "Up to No Good EP", Birds & Batteries plays up the art rock side of the marriage to good effect. Opener "The Villain" recalls the avant-funk of Talking Heads and David Bowie, although the band does squeeze out the lyric "I am a man of constant sorrow" in a cheeky nod to bluegrass. "Lonely Guns" comes on like a vintage Sci-Fi film score, while "Out in the Woods" happily mashes indie dance and psych before decrying "all my cities are gone!".
Birds & Batteries are on tour this spring with Christopher Walsh (guitar, pedal steel) replacing Thomasson in the line-up. The band will be part of the "Bay Area Takeover" at SXSW on March 18 in Austin, Texas.