wildbirds and peacedrums rivers
    • WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 25, 2010

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    Wildbirds and Peacedrums are a husband and wife duo from Sweden who make experimental, often beautiful pop that is striking in its simplicity. Their new album, Rivers, is actually a compilation of sorts, consisting of two five song EPs which were previously released on limited pressings earlier this summer.

    Perhaps the most captivating thing about the band is singer Mariam Wallentin whose clear, soulful yearn of a voice colors every track on Rivers with a mysterious yet substantial beauty. Retina, the first of the two EPs, sees the band joined by the Schola Cantorum Reykjavik Chamber Choir who have recorded with Bjork (and, coincidentally, lots of the vocal cooing that the choir does to great effect on "Tiny Holes in This World" sounds wonderfully similar to Bjork's EP with the Dirty Projectors from earlier this year). Wallentin's husband, Andrea Werliin, handles all the percussion which, in its dynamism and versatility, acts a perfect off-kilter accompaniment to the steady, often monochromatic vocals. The way the drums build from a simple stomp to a galloping triumph as Wallentin's voice builds in intensity on "Tiny Holes" is a feat to behold.

    "Tiny Holes" stands out a lot because it contains the essence of everything the band does right -- experimental dynamics, confident beauty and atmosphere layered over strong, but skeletal instrumentation. And when it works, it works. When they drift away from this, the results aren't as spectacular. "Under Land and Over Sea" is all eerie, dreamy atmosphere and it sags without any percussion to give it weight.

    But if Wildbirds have anything going for them, it's a remarkable sense of composition. Repeated thematic elements, sonic motifs and melodic phrasings weave in and out of the two EPs in a way that doesn't feel especially forced or laborous -- the natural end result of the kind of music the pair make, perhaps. The Iris half of the EP introduces a steel drum as the central musical motif and it succeeds more often than the choral-focused Retina. "The Drop", in particular, with its bass drum thuds, aquatic steel pan hits and breezy pace, is a standout.

    In the end, however, this may be a record that you'll appreciate more than love. Retina, especially, can sound a little amorphous and dry sometimes and the former symptom could possibly be overlooked if the latter wasn't so pervasive. There's something a little cold and distant about Wildbirds and Peacedrums which, in itself isn't a fault. Many bands deploy this particular quirk to great effect. But I get the sense that Wildbirds' music would greatly benefit from a nice dose of warmth shot through all that percussion and negative space. Just a thought. -ben krusling

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