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The Bridges

Limits of the Sky

(Verve Forecast; US: 10 Jun 2008; UK: Available as import)

You’d be forgiven for being weary of this: a band of four siblings from Alabama (last name: Byrd—too bad that band name was already taken), aged 18 to 24 years old, who, along with their cousin, lead vocalist Brittany Painter, appear in nouveau-Disney pastels on the cover of their debut album. It’s an image that’s as innocuous as it is, in these days of Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyruses, a sign o’ the times. That air of pre-packaged predictability does, admittedly, surface in the Bridges’ impeccably polished music—the sun-brite choruses that would fit nicely next to Sara Bareilles on a Kiss-format radio station, the slight twang in the contemp-country harmonies and taut electric guitars, the songs about ambiguous relationship conflicts and joys delivered via lyrics that are just this side of cliché.


And yet, there’s something more to the Bridges’ music than mere adolescent catharsis and focus-group appeal. The band executes its polished pop constructions with lean instrumentation, not pancakes of auditory braggadocio, and consistently intricate and involved vocal harmonies. Those harmonies, in fact, serve as the Bridges’ calling card—those thick, multi-layered shocks of effervescence that fill in the gaps left by Painter’s one-dimensional bluster. Harmonies may not save any of these songs, but they certainly make a number of them.


The Bridges also make good use of tambourines and handclaps, as well as power-pop heavyweight Matthew Sweet, who serves as Limits of the Sky‘s producer. It’s difficult to say whether or not Sweet’s involvement is singularly responsible for the songs’ transcendence of run-of-the-mill Aughts Pop trappings, though it surely doesn’t hurt having the guy around. Sweet is a master of the universal pop song—the sort of track that speaks in exceedingly general terms and is consumed with undeniably melodic infectiousness—and though the Bridges may not exactly be masters of that sort of depth-in-depthlessness, songs like “All the Words” and “Pieces” prove that they’re eager to be acolytes.


After a while, the contented pacing of Limits of the Sky does have a tendency to blur the songs together into a gooey mush of pining, exaltation, and those sweltering harmonies, but the initial thrill of the band’s appeal is fun while it lasts. The album’s true stand-out, “Blue”, is a darker take on the Bridges’ glittery style, a tumbling slo-mo stomp that turns those sweet multi-layered vocals from blazing confidence into wishful thinking. In this shadowy corner of the Bridges’ world, much more than surface-level beauty is seemingly at stake.

Rating:

Zeth Lundy has been writing for PopMatters since 2004. He is the author of Songs in the Key of Life (Continuum, 2007), and has contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Metro Boston, and The Oxford American. He lives in Boston.


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