Burd Early is not a particularly clever lyricist, nor is he distinctly sincere. The obvious musical acts to compare his Observatory EP and full-length Magnet Mountain to, Smog, Palace, The Silver Jews, and maybe 2/3rds of the Wilco oevure, usually fall into one of those two categories, often both. While Early manages to create a vocal tone that is nearly an exact facsimile of his obvious influences, the writing is just not there. I’ll be the first to admit there is an occasional catchy hook, I’ve been humming the coda to Magnet Mountain’s opening track, “Driftwood”, all day, much to my chagrin. It’s just that where Smog or Palace come from a long line of influences ranging from David Allen Coe to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Burd Early seems to only be drawing from Smog or Palace.
Magnet Mountain is the earlier and less busy of the two releases. It feels like several hours in length despite the fact that it’s impossible to fit more than one hour onto a CD. The songs are mostly specfically orchestrating for guitar and voice, though Early occasionally mixes things up by putting in what sounds like a watered-down, synthesizer version of hip-hop rhythm, like one would hear on Sesame Street. While Will Oldham writes songs about horses, sisters and loss and Bill Callahan writes songs about frustration, misanthropy, and loss with a more humourous tone, Burd Early writes songs that are at first look, rather silly. “Open up the window/turn on the fan/if you want to love baby/well you’ve got to die” is the line Early chooses to open his album with. Early managed to pick up one of the strong points of his influences, in that the mood and tone of his songs don’t necessarily match his lyrics, often creating a somewhat uncomfortable feeling.
On the Observatory EP, Burd’s allowed himself better orchestration, which steps the musical content up enough to make it a more worthy opponent of roughly the same lyrical format. Early tends to start a song with something painfully silly to listen to and is clearly trying to make that initial impression into something resonant by the end of each track. He’s not quite there yet, however. Many of these songs are dismissible as silly and often rather sloppy, and not in the endearing sense.
In his favor, Early writes some pretty addictive hooks and at very least, is pushing himself to do something beyond the singer/songwriter folk idiom. With a more active sense of instrumentation and a more relevant collection of lyrics, Early could make a very fine album.
Burd Early: http://www.burdearly.com