POISONOUS BIRDS- ‘We Can Never Not Be All of Us’
Over the past few years, Bristol-based outfit Poisonous Birds have proven relentlessly restless- expanding their already experimental sound to incorporate more electronic elements, commissioning remixes, creating their own artwork, curating live shows, and even starting a record label. Hell, this isn’t even their first release of the year, having already turned out a collaborative EP with the frontperson of Black Foxxes. ‘We Can Never Not Be All Of Us’ though, is definitely their most impressive work to date.
Opener ‘We Move, Plastic’ arrives quietly, on a skittering beat and digital mist, but it blooms quickly. Soon there are rubbery drum bumps, bubbling bass notes, and high, haunting, subtly manipulated vocals. However, while there are lyrics- almost abstract words about moving and changing and fading- the vocals are not necessarily used to tell a story. Instead they’re employed as texture, as layer, as another instrument altogether. ‘Warm Jets’ is less busy but just as carefully constructed, and ‘Mood Stabiliser’ is a shimmering, shapeshifting thing, dance music for people who hate dance music.
If that all sounds like Poisonous Birds can be hard to place, you’re not wrong. The band’s earlier work had more typical structure, and instrumentation obvious enough that you’d likely find their records listed as ‘rock’. But now the connective tissue they share with the category is twisted and stretched thin. Like ‘Kid A’-era Radiohead, 65daysofstatic, or the most organic edges of Vessels‘ work (although not at any of their levels, yet), the Bristol boys have taken what they used to do and shed it of genre, shred conventions, and made something still recognisable but now new.
There are delicate indie vibes, a few moments reminiscent of Brian Eno, Boards of Canada, and that kinetic, rhythmic kind of ambience that isn’t really ambient at all, and it can be cinematic too- but only if the film that’s showing is an eerie and complex tale. There’s plenty to unpack.
None of that makes ‘We Can Never Not Be All Of Us’ difficult to understand, mind you. There are growing pains- some of the sounds feel like they’ve been designed with a blueprint rather than a beating heart, and you might yearn for a true dynamic shift midway through the fourth or fifth synth burst- but if you let it, the six tracks and 22 minutes of music here will take you places.
There’s also (perhaps on purpose) a nagging hanging, unresolved sensation. Maybe it’s all the slow fades and smoothed consonants but the band’s job feels unfinished. It’s like some of the music would have benefit from more time and more space to unfurl into. A gripe here, but the thought of the band focussing on a long-playing debut and making good on this promise, is very exciting. Poisonous Birds continue to spread their wings, and then some.