Songs from Willapa Bay


In 1994, I was 11. I religiously bought CMJ magazine for a two-year stint that began around then, and ended around the time they changed their layout and started featuring famous artists like Trent Reznor. This was way before they started rigging their lists of college radio polls. There was a point when I could hear music that I would otherwise never get to hear in suburban Pittsburgh — Indie rock. Emo wasn’t quite the knee-jerk, repulsion-inducing term it is now, and I lived in a very romantic state of mind. I’m a little nostalgic for it.

Since I generally have the opportunity to review music that I’m interested in, Birddog’s Songs from Willapa Bay is a little frustrating for me. I was drawn to the release because of Glenn Kotche, who, as it turns out, left after the last album. I generally dislike indie rock, with the exception of a couple of artists that I don’t really lump together in that category. I do love songwriting, though. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m frustrated with Birddog solely because they have short songs with lyrics.

I think they may have lost some creative edge since their last album. Losing guest spots by Edith Frost and Elliot Smith, as well as Glenn Kotche’s drum playing could serve as a devastating blow to any critic’s darling band. Their replacements? Sebadoh alum Jason Lowenstein and Paul Oldham, brother of Will, immortalized on the Palace Brothers’ “O Paul.” I love Will Oldham. I think he’s one of the most talented musicians today. Maybe Paul has a part in that, but it certainly doesn’t transfer to Birddog. They seem to be making a pretty sorry plea for credibility by including already successful indie stars to enhance the less-than-stellar, phony Alex Chilton, now slightly Oldham-nipping style of Bill Santen.

Songs from Willipa Bay is just so empty, so unfulfilling in its inane, unnecessarily aloof lyrics. If only it could touch on that resigned laziness of Oldham’s “West Palm Beach” or “Gulf Shores,” something that you get the sense it is aiming for, judging by the cover art and Fred Sexton’s guitar playing. It just doesn’t, though. Instead, I spend the whole length of the 23-minute album waiting for it to make some kind of dent, to sink in somehow.

Karma Records: • Birddog:

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