The Bird & the Bee: Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future

More super-smart, -sexy, and -fun pop music for thinking people.

The Bird & the Bee

Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future

Label: Blue Note
US Release Date: 2009-01-27
UK Release Date: 2009-01-26

It’s dangerously easy for “serious” music fans to equate feeling good with feeling dumb. Pop music has long been stereotyped as vapid and disposable pap because, let’s face it, that stereotype has been proven true more than once. But just as country music isn’t all shtick about cheatin’ wives and lost dogs, and rock and roll has died a thousand deaths, pop music doesn’t deserve its status, even amongst its fans, as a loveable ditz.

Los Angelinos the Bird & the Bee (Inara George and Greg Kurstin) are inheritors of the crafty, somewhat geeky, but still feel-good strain of stylish studio pop. The band’s 2007 self-titled debut established their fondness for Serge Gainsbourg, Esquivel, and tropicalia on songs like the cheeky “Fucking Boyfriend” and “Again & Again”, giving listeners ever so slight a pause between dancefloor beats to ponder the wit behind both the words and melodies.

Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future builds on its predecessor with even tighter concepts and hooks born of a naturally strengthening partnership. George’s glass-clear vocals own and command their melodies, whether on the cooing verses of “Ray Gun” or the Dance Dance Revolution stylings of “Love Letter to Japan”. As the songs tumble over jazz changes and through curtains of digital sparkles and effects, George is confident and on point. Kurstin, who has worked on records for everyone from Lily Allen and Kylie Minogue to the Flaming Lips, fills each construction with the just the right amount of layers, balancing space-age (i.e. a ‘60s definition of “space-age”) bleeps and blurps with subtler swaths of organ to support George’s lines.

The result is a limber, considered vibe that pervades the airy “Baby” and the indelible “Polite Dance Song”, which led off last fall’s Please Clap Your Hands EP. On the latter, George croons twists on classic hip-hop lines, “Give it up for me please / Throw your hands in the air / If you know what’s for you / You wanna shake it like you just don’t care”, over a thumping, vaguely narcotized rhythm section. Tellingly, the song at once exhorts the audience to dance and “show some brain”. The entire album provides just the impetus for both.

“Diamond Dave” is both a winking admission of kitsch-love and an earnest paean to Mr. Lee Roth. Atop twinkling piano keys, George purrs “Come on Dave / Show me what you got / I can take it”, reawakening youth’s capacity for unabashed fandom and joy in music. Immediately following, “What’s in the Middle” features not quite an Eddie Van Halen-level guitar solo, but something just as ornamental and pleasurable, rewarding those who choose to ponder its influences and those who just want to boogie down.

Each track on Ray Gun uses a different musical springboard to achieve this balanced end, from the ragtime piano of “You’re a Cad” to the starry-eyed '80s disco of “Meteor”, there are enough layers to these songs to make them worthy of listening on headphones as well as at parties.






Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression (premiere + interview)

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.