Birds and Buildings — Multipurpose Trap
(Emkog Records 005, 2013, CD)
There is a lot of complex progressive rock out there, but with most, after a number of listens, the knots and twists and convolutions tend to straighten out as a basic familiarity with the compositions and many levels of arrangements are established in the listener’s mind. But not this one. I’m about to press the play button for at least the 30th time, and I have no idea what’s coming around the corner. There are some basic elements that re-establish themselves with each play, but it’s kind of like a whole new experience of re-learning each time. The opening track starts out in kind of a Canterbury mode with touches of that early Crimson Mellotron experience, and GG/Gryphon chamberesque elements all fused together, with wholesale changes going down every few measures, then some Magma-like voices come in at around the two minute mark, along with some mad violin soloing over the whole extravaganza that continues to the end of the piece; this is a song that clocks in just a little over three minute mark. Many of those same styles and arrangements appear throughout the album’s nine tracks, featuring clarinet, saxes, violin, flute, guitar, bass, and drums, as well as a dizzying array of keyboard sounds – electric piano, organs, synth, and the aforementioned glorified keyboard-driven multi-track tape player that at times seems to simulate a number of orchestral wind instruments in that most hallowed of prog traditions. These are mostly instrumental workouts, but when there are vocals, there are a lot of vocals... does that make sense? Six singers are credited, and I’m almost certain there are times when all six are in play; dense, complex, and multi-layered, just like the instrumental parts. Not so much as a vehicle for the lyrics (although there are indeed lyrics), but arranged much like additional instrumentation. The somewhat creepy Van Der Graaf-like vocal parts on “East Is Fort Orthodox” go far toward making it one of the album’s immediate standout cuts, along with its irregular choppy groove, and the sheer complexity of the arrangements, even in the quieter parts. “Catapult” is another standout, ten long busy minutes with its manic driving pace that never lets up, and the zeuhl-like vocal sections. From beginning to end this entire disc is a masterful showcase of musical complexity. Just know what you’re getting into!
by Peter Thelen,
At some point in listening to Multipurpose Trap
, the music stops being a mixture of a wide variety of different threads of progressive rock and becomes a thread of its own. I suppose if you combined a number of threads of different colors, you might end up with a dull gray or brown rope, but luckily the metaphor doesn't stretch that far, and Birds and Buildings is a very colorful concoction. One reference point that keeps coming back to me is the first two Happy the Man albums, though B&B has a somewhat wider array of instruments in the game. Happy the Man was always an instrumental band with occasional vocals, and this is the same — while there are some words, the voices are used more or less as additional instruments. While I can't say I've heard every item in Dan Britton's discography, to my mind, this release easily tops anything I've heard from Cerebus Effect, Deluge Grander, or All over Everywhere. (Don't get me wrong, some of those are pretty darn solid albums.) The complexity of the arrangements makes sense to me, with the end result being greater than the sum of its many parts. I am both intrigued and entertained for 63 minutes if I listen to the whole thing, and several of the shorter tracks have made it into the rotation on my phone for when I'm running around. And I'll give a special mention to the epic "Abominable Pelican" with its absurd storyline about a "loathsome fowl" who used to taunt donkeys before turning against us and plotting intercontinental demise or something like that — the lyrics are pretty difficult to make out, so I could be completely off base. In any case, this is great stuff, one of the year's best releases.
by Jon Davis,
Like Dan Britton’s other projects (Cerebus Effect, Deluge Grander, All Over Everywhere), Birds and Buildings is a bitch to classify, which might be the main reason it’s so awesome. Musically, Multipurpose Trap
sits in the sector of modern prog once also occupied by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum — a weird American take on Canterbury and zeuhl mixed with classic progressive rock. Britton (keys and guitars) is joined by Brett d’Anon (guitars, bass), Brian Falkowski (sax, flute, clarinet), Chris Fyhr (violin) and Malcolm McDuffie (drums). The reeds and violin are not merely used as decorative ornamentation, but often carry (or share) the burden of melodic leads and solos. But within the context of these nine bird-themed songs, that usually involves fierce and frenetic bursts of mayhem. Most of them are like a trip inside the mind of a mad genius, with ideas careening wildly from tortured unison passages to demonic harmony vocals to wide-screen symphonic canvases, sometimes encompassing half a dozen distinct arrangements within just a minute of music. Britton’s keyboards often occupy the central harmonic role, though bass and drums sometimes upstaging everyone else with virtuosic and muscular rhythmic and melodic assaults. The main criticism of Birds and Building’s debut was the vocals, which are here handled by a committee of singers. It was a smart move and the variety of vocalists actually suits the chaos within the tunes. Some prog fans may find this album a cold and thorny experience, though the attentive listener is rewarded. Recommended.
by Paul Hightower,
Filed under: New releases, 2013 releases
Related artist(s): Birds and Buildings