Music

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.

Teamwork
Futurebirds

VL/4L

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.

6


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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