Exposé Online banner

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic — Dancing on A'a
(Cuneiform Rune 69, 1995, CD)

by Peter Thelen, 1995-07-01:

Dancing on A'a Cover art

This is Birdsongs eighth release, and their third new album on Cuneiform. They continue to sport one of the most unique and unclassifiable styles, residing somewhere between rock, jazz, and neo-classical minimalism, with echoes of industrial age experimentalism. Purely instrumental, the lineup includes dual keyboards, reeds, guitar, and a combination of electronic and acoustic percussion. Their music is a labyrinthine journey through angular passages, sometimes chaotic — sometimes serene, but filled with adventure at every turn. For anyone who hasn't heard the Birdsongs before, they have never been better. As on previous releases, the better part of the compositions are written by keyboardist Erik Lindgren. The big change with this album is the addition of new guitarist Michael Bierylo, who — in addition to composing three of the album's tracks — adds a new and dynamic guitar presence within their sound, complementing the saxes of Ken Field nicely. This time out, the percussion is handled much better, with guest musicians providing acoustic drums on several of the tracks. Furthermore, the sampled electronic percussion here is much better, giving the music a more natural and less mechanical feel than on previous releases. Some high points include the dramatic "Readymen" and "Sirius the Scorching," the subtle but energized "Ptinct," and an adventurous yet concise rendition of the "Peter Gunn" theme. In all, this is by far Birdsongs' most impressive effort to date, one I'll recommend highly to the fan and newcomer alike.


by Mike Ohman, 1995-07-01:

What started out as an arty project composed mostly of ex-members of Boston noise-band Mission of Burma seems to have become primarily the vehicle for keyboardist/composer Erik Lindgren. Lindgren carries on on this the latest release with a completely different line-up. Ex-Burma guitarist (and former Birdsongs keyboardist) Roger Miller (no, not that Roger Miller!) contributes one composition, "Swamp," ironically also the longest track. Otherwise the album is all Lindgren and the new musicians. The compositions on Dancing on A'a are dauntingly complex, with a base in avant-garde chamber music, with touches of jazzy improvisation and rock energy, sort of like Bartók and Thelonious Monk meeting in Rock & Roll Heaven. Well, as I said, sort of. I'm not 100% sure if the music is completely composed or if there is some improvisation, but it sure sounds as though much of this was impromptu. In any case, the pieces are composed in such a way that it's fiendishly hard to tell what was improvised and what was not, not unlike National Health. But the abundant dissonances remind more of Univers Zero, Henry Cow or The Muffins. The Birdsongs aren't quite as radical as that, but fans of the aforementioned will surely not be disappointed. One could hardly term this music "commercial." Piano and sax act as the dominant instruments, backed by a bed of synthesizers. Though most of the drums are programmed, the power of the music shines through. Obviously a lot of thought went into the programming. Guitarist Michael Bierylo stays mostly in the background, providing extensive support for Ken Field's rampant sax lines and Lindgren's jagged, clustery piano chords. There is also Farfisa combo organ, for those whose tastes lean that way (knowing the readers of this magazine, probably not many). Lindgren's penchant for twisted cover versions (which his original band, the Space Negros, thrived on) seems not to have diminished over the years. This time, it's a version of Henry Mancini's evergreen Peter Gunn theme. Not quite as extreme as the Art of Noise's version, but hardly conservative, and lots of fun. So, for auditory adventurers, this is a suitable treat. It's also proof that good progressive music can come from unlikely sources.

by Rob Walker, 1995-07-01:

Dancing on A'a is another outstanding release from this unique, eclectic, and virtually-impossible-to-describe ensemble. The music of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic is a bizarre and quirky mixture of avant-garde, 20th Century classical, electronic, and progressive elements. Using electronic and live percussion along with keyboards, guitar and saxophone, their sound evokes a mood and atmosphere that truly does seem to belong to another era. While Birdsongs have moved slightly away from the more overt minimalism of their earlier material, the music on Dancing on A'a is essentially a brilliant refinement of their established sound. All of the elements that have made their previous works so engaging are here in even greater abundance. Sinuous guitar and sax leads weave in and out of repetitive yet complex rhythms. Intricate rhythmic and melodic piano and synth parts help to flesh out the dense, lush sound. Moods alternate from the dark and introspective to the aggressive and unsettling. Throughout it all, though, Dancing on A'a proves to be some of Birdsongs most cohesive work to date. The writing has improved continuously over their past several albums, and here proves to be consistently solid, dynamic, and fluid, with contributions from three of the group’s four members. For anyone into the more experimental and avant-garde realms of prog, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic present some fantastically innovative and complex music, and Dancing on A'a is their best album yet. If you've never heard these guys before, what are you waiting for?

Filed under: New releases , Issue 7 , 1995 releases

Related artist(s): Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Ken Field

More info

Latest news

2019-01-31
Keyboardist Ingo Bischof R.I.P. – Keyboard player Ingo Bischof, best known as the longtime keyboard player of German band Kraan, passed away on January 29th, 2019. Bischof was born January 2, 1951 in Berlin-Kreuzberg and joined Kraan in 1975. » Read more

2019-01-11
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more

2019-01-02
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more

2018-12-23
Seaprog Festival Seeks Donations – Seaprog is a small festival in Seattle that highlights creative music from many genres with artists from around the world. It's also a US non-profit organization. They're seeking donations to help keep the ball rolling. Starting in 2013, the organization has been growing, and has featured such artists as Free Salamander Exhibit, Jack o' the Clock, Nik Turner, Cabezas de Cera, Miriodor, Thinking Plague, and many more. » Read more

2018-11-16
The Seventeenth Dream of Dr Sardonicus Festival Tickets Now Available – Fruits de Mer Records and their merry crew of psychedelic explorers are getting set to present the next The Seventeenth Dream of Dr. Sardonicus Festival. The dates are set for August 2-4, 2019 at The Cellar Bar in Cardigan, Wales. They've also announced that the legendary Groundhogs will top the bill. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Carmen - Fandangos in Space & Dancing on a Cold Wind – Do you like Jethro Tull? Curved Air? Flamenco dancing? Did you ever wish for a combination of the three? Your wish has come true, and its name is Carmen! And if you don't think they could pull off...  (1994) » Read more

Roger Powell - Fossil Poets – Roger Powell is best known as long-time keyboardist for Utopia as well as his early pioneering synthesizer records (Cosmic Furnace and Air Pocket). Fossil Poets is his first set of new recordings in...  (2008) » Read more

Eric Roberts - In a Silent Place – Eric Roberts is a bassist who has logged many hours supporting big name acts over the years and this is his recorded debut as a guitarist. Although largely a solo effort, he does get help from a few...  (2006) » Read more

Motis - L'homme-loup & Live Crescendo – Motis is a talented French group who create what might be called medieval progressive rock. They are deeply influenced by the literature and myths of the Knights of the Round Table, the Song of...  (2008) » Read more

No-Man - Flowermix & Heaven Taste – I suppose the music on these two remix CDs by No-Man could be categorized as loosely flirting with the techno / trance / ambient realm of things, but since the exceptions far outweigh the rule, it...  (1997) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues