Under Review

birthday bitch
Courtney Heffernan

26 is the second EP from Birthday Bitch, their first being a two track demo. The latest release from the Vancouver trio captures nuanced melodies that emerge alongside lo-fi guitar work.

Birthday Bitch’s sound varies across the four tracks of 26. Though each song differs from the next, all are in a style reminiscent of something I have heard before. On my first listen, I tried to put my finger on which bands Birthday Bitch evokes or which vocalists the singing of Dorothy Marshall brings to mind. To say that Birthday Bitch works in several reminiscent styles is not to suggest a lack of uniqueness. Instead, the similarities make their music all the more moving because their sound is recognizably evocative.

26’s opening track “Nocturne,” for instance, recalls the driving percussion and impassioned vocals of “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The dissonant guitar and pronounced bass on “Nocturne” are in contrast with Marshall’s shaded vocals. Softly melodic at the song’s start, her voice rises to match the heavy distortion of the chorus.

“Too Close,” on the other hand, builds slowly around Marshall’s whispered, breathy vocals. Hanna Fazio’s percussion and the mounting force of Shelby Vredik’s guitar make the track an instrumental standout. With a sultry sound that recalls Angelo Badalamenti’s score for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, “Too Close” could make an apt addition to a David Lynch film. Marshall’s vocals crescendo in shouts before “Too Close” fades into silence.

The slow burning sound on the EP’s first half is in contrast with the near-frantic pace of the latter half of 26. “Teeth” and “Harwitch” are more in keeping with sound of Birthday Bitch’s late 2016 demos. Marshall speak-sings on the chorus of “Teeth,” in a predominantly monotone style that differs from her breathy delivery on “Too Close.” Uptempo closing track “Harwitch” is danceable lo-fi rock that would make a well-received addition to a Birthday Bitch live show.

Though they have only released six songs so far, Birthday Bitch is already making music that stakes its claim within the West Coast lo-fi scene. While there is certainly a market for their upbeat tracks, they have the ability to make an impact with their moody, multifaceted brand of rock.

shrouded amps

Shrouded Amps

Come Along To Chocolate Church

Mark Budd

Density is a ratio of a substance’s mass and volume — a way of equating the concentration of matter within a space. It is as much a measure of fullness as it is emptiness. This concept translates well to hearing music: density can be satisfying when the wall of sound leaves gaps for the group dynamics.

Within the six-songs of Come Along to the Chocolate Church, Shrouded Amps concentrate their sonic matter while leaving space for three-piece dynamics. An angular twelve-string guitar anchors many songs. It’s heavy in the mix. “Flags” features a simple modal line, effective with its repetition and attentive harmonics. In “Lost Creatures Land,” the final track, a pulsating bass line has a haunting hold on the song. The effect is a lasting one: repeat listens find the bass a guiding force.

Together, these instruments create a dense wall of sound, akin to the shoegaze of an upbeat Slowdive. Floating beneath this barrier are intricate tom rolls and stuttering snare fills; definite proof that Shrouded Amps are more than just a guitar band. The drums play an integral part. They cue the songs between frenetic and subdued instrumental moments. “When You Asked” rises and falls through multiple cadences in the first minute before the vocals cut in.

And the vocals somehow manage to cut above all this instrumental work. Using harmonies and vocalist tradeoffs, Shrouded Amps pose lyrical observations about the origins of home and animalistic behaviours. Maybe it is metaphorical, but the ambiguity helps the songs remain ethereal amidst the viscous music.

Come Along to the Chocolate Church is a hefty offering of intensity — a teenage riot sinking deep into your eardrums. The three-piece carry dynamic instrumental sections with dark melodies that contrast the hushed vocals. The album is brisk, but satisfyingly lush and worth following along.