Futurebirds Play to Their Strengths on 'Teamwork'

Photo: Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

Indie country-rockers Futurebirds return with a renewed focus on Teamwork, but the album would benefit from taking more risks.



15 January 2020

Futurebirds arrived a decade ago with their main ingredients ready to mix. Their country-rock aesthetic, comfortable harmonies, and well-received live shows had them on a focused trajectory. After 2015's Hotel Parties, the group took five years off from recording albums. A pair of EPs mostly loaded with covers treaded water for a couple of years. Now Futurebirds return with Teamwork, an album that draws on their skill and experience to highlight their strengths, but without paying off the long wait for new music.

The group's biggest challenge was going to be carving out their distinctive space. Futurebirds rarely stumble in execution, though finding room in a loosely psychedelic Southern rock scene may be difficult. At times the group comes on like a happier My Morning Jacket, and their relaxed groove on record puts them somewhere between the jam scene and nearby indie-rockers. That liminality may work to their advantage, their ability to harness a particular mood being perhaps the most Futurebirds thing about them. On Teamwork, the group get in that place and stay there, perfectly satisfying anyone's Futurebirds itch.

While that approach makes the album a success, it also highlights its limitations. The group's professionalism stands out; they know how to craft what they want, each slide guitar line and backing vocal in place. Too often, though, the specifics of the music turns into a drab consistency. Nearly every song on the record works. But throughout the tone and style lead to a steadiness rather than an exciting variability.

The album might feel limited, but it doesn't mean the individual songs drag. "My Broken Arm" shifts into driving country mode. The performance rocks, but as hurt and ambivalence turn into at least a little certainty, and that gives the song an extra boost. We don't understand the situation exactly, but we don't need to, and the guitar fills us in on whatever we might be missing. "Crazy Boys" settles into that mid-tempo pacing, but the lyrical mix of nostalgia, loss, and persistence gives the song a memorable edge. The song's instrumental outro adds a pointed development to the mood. "All Damn Night" puts a darker side to the music, fitting for late-night thoughts. "Waiting on a Call" closes Teamwork with one of the band's most patient and carefully constructed songs.

Those cuts give the album a solid foundation, but too many of the other songs function as placeholders. The band know exactly what to do, but they'd benefit from forgetting some of that. At times the cosmic element of the guitars sounds like background reverb. Futurebirds can play wonderfully enjoyable alt-country, but they can also sound like a soporific version of their forerunners, a drugged Jayhawks. The time off from recorded may have focused Futurebirds, but what they need is a higher tolerance for risk-taking. The skill and the songwriting remain, but they're waiting to go somewhere unexpected.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

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.