This ‘Birdpen’ review was written by Omar Alavi, a GIGsoup contributor.
What’s the point? What’s the chip on BirdPen’s shoulders? What’s eating them up such that it requires an album that people have to buy to find out?
Sure it’s well-produced and musicianship is right up there and Pen’s vocals have range, moodiness and hit notes perfectly but what statement is he making? Rather is that statement(s) worth spending money on? Those are the questions that intrigued me after listening to it non-stop about 6-times on one music system and about 5-odd times on another! Indeed there is a remarkable difference in sound – spatially brilliant on the latter – yet you still ask yourself why is nothing impacting your senses. Have you desensitized to a point where impassioned wailings don’t hurt you! See even hurt is good because it’s far from staying indifferent. It’s like muzak. Ride an elevator a few times and tell me if the background music spoke to you. Chances are you’d say, “No! Was someone singing?” Prescisely!
The concept of BirdPen’s album In the Company of Imaginary Friends is ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in reverse. Part I (Tracks 1 – 5) As if a character chanced upon the real world and got utterly confused and lost with the unordered and chaotic social mayhem he witnessed! Part II(Tracks 7 -11) Desperately retracing it’s steps back to the rabbit hole, he has changed due to the escapade and now has to come to terms with the make-belief. The rabbit-hole, folks, is the brain!
The opening track Like A Mountain attempts to set the listener free from worrying about uncontrollable phenomena and just live as the world spirals out of control. Hauntingly catchy synths create a dark landscape of emotional disbelief and coming to terms with the impending doom. Resistance is futile as ‘you can crush, you can save or you can roll with the waves or let them swallow you’.
Somewhere is a song of bewilderment, abandonment and fear. “I’ve been worried I’ve been lost somewhere; hello monsters what have you done, made me lose it, lost my head somewhere” Banshees with “broken mouths” wailing take the lost soul Into The Blacklight with an interplay of Synths and Percussion building into a crescendo of emotional breakdown. Pen’s vocal range is amply showcased and the fella has some pipes on him!
Frenzied and up-tempo TCTTYA (They’re Coming To Take You Away) is schizophrenic and taciturn, tight-lipped about to the identity of the demons who “can do anything, they will take it all…lock your doors, they’re coming to take you away”!
The ballady Lost It is an admission of being numb as a result of this forced trauma hoping this insanity is temporary since “words you say don’t communicate…thinking back on where we lost it, I am not giving up…”!
Part I ends here with the dejected optimism of finding the way back home. Lake’s Demand For An Interlude with its dramatic wave-front musical façade is the Editor’s wash to bring the story to the next phase.
At times you feel whether you are listening to the soundtrack of a post-apocalyptic utopian movie in the style of 1984 or The Terminator but you’ve heard that, many times, over and over again, haven’t you? No Place Like Drone is a 9:41 minute monster with three distinct musical arrangements: the mid-tempo electronica, the up-tempo chanting in a commune and the acoustic downturn fading out with waterfalls. This operatic soundscape is boring and dull as it follows the lost back into “the garden [where you] run for safety through a rabbit hole that used to be a home”.
Alive with strong pop inflections is acknowledgement of feeling like an alien inside his own hole (read home) now that he has taken the bite of the apple and has returned after his ill-begotten adventure as “everything is long and bright, emotionless” and he doesn’t “feel right [and he is] getting out here [and] inside my mind I am entering a room with noise and words to sing”. And singing, he concludes, reinvigorates him as he bellows, “I am alive!”
Lifeline is “brighter than the lull all around” and while the “sky is clearing” the lost soul is claiming his stake which in this case is being a singer, a role he is “one now” with and holding on to find a meaning to his existence.
Cell Song is about taking stalk of life as it stands at the moment where the “speakers in my room I hear a grooving tune” where his “heart is ready to work in flight in my mind.” A resolution, a coming to terms with his presence where it’s Equal Parts Hope and Dread, the journey to the self comes to an end! Or is it the beginning and like a Fellini movie it leaves you suspended with images, colours and fantasy to work out the jigsaw puzzle of distortion inside the mind.
While the conceptual nature of the album is appealing and Pen’s vocal beautiful, ethereal, almost otherworldly, the sound is dated and indulging and familiar! Look, familiarity is a double-edges sword in that if the arrangements makes you nostalgic about Pink Floyd or even Radiohead it doesn’t bode well for BirdPen’s In The Company of Imaginary Friends as a standout album. The album markets the genre not itself. It’s provoking yet soothing without giving the heart a reason to skip a beat, makes you relaxed without that uneasy feeling to flip on to the next song! It’s an enjoyment of existing as is without the compulsion of finding out more.
The full track-listing for ‘In The Company Of Imaginary Friends’ is as follows…
’Like A Mountain’
‘Into The Blacklight’
‘Lake’s Demand For An Interlude’
‘No Place Pike Drone’
‘Equal Parts Hope And Dread’