The San Francisco rock scene may not ever see days like the 1960s again, or the ’70s and ’80s again, or even the ’90s again, but despite its changing character the city can still rear a worthy upstart guitar band like the Love-Birds, even if they are something more of an endangered species than they once were.
Having come together in the not-distant days of 2016, the band gave an unsubtle nod to their city’s rock heritage last year with their hilarious video for “Filled With Hate”. The sight of a young hesher in standard-issue thrash metal attire doing the Metallica windmill headbang alone in numerous incongruous locations was a fitting complement to a buzz-pop tune with a heavy title. In fact, the track list of the Filled With Hate EP, released on 7″ last year by San Francisco-based Empty Cellar Records, read a little misleadingly between the title track, “Streets of Rage” and “Ready to Suffer”.
The Love-Birds’ debut full length for the Trouble in Mind label forgoes those kinds of playful surface contradictions. They haven’t gone ‘serious’ per se, but In the Lover’s Corner is a casually assured collection of songs from a group that is growing into their sound at a good clip. The dynamic between guitarist-vocalists Eli Wald and Thomas Rubenstein, trading off lead riffs and turns at the mic, keeps their direction from ever settling into a straight line. Drummer Eli Groshelle and bassist Charlie Ertola provide a sturdy but flexible rhythmic spine. The album is consistent but doesn’t become predictable.
The quartet also open the album up to contributions from Glenn Donaldson of Skygreen Leopards, who, at the Zen Center in Bolinas, California, engineered one of the album’s two recording sessions last year — while Kelley Stoltz handled the other in his and the band’s hometown. Donaldson’s keyboard parts add to the loose charm of “Hit My Head” and “Clear the Air”, and even gives a little wink to Dire Straits in the short and punchy “December (Get to You)”. Donaldson also contributes vocals to “Hit My Head”, as does Griffin Jones to “Angela” and “December (Get to You)”. The band then got Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub to do the mastering, giving In the Lover’s Corner a scuffed sheen of power pop legacy.
Still, in a relatively early stage as a band, the Love-Birds nonetheless have the makings of a worthy addition to that lineage. The four of them are clearly versed in the genre classics from Big Star to Teenage Fanclub. “Kiss and Tell” in particular feels like it could be a lost Chris Bell tune. The chime of Wald’s 12-string guitar — not to mention the band’s choice of name — make comparisons to the Byrds all but inevitable, but the gentle opener “Again” and the warm chorus of “Weak Riff” bear traces. The Love-Birds carry it all off in their own voice, though, and there’s nary a misstep or missed opportunity on In the Lover’s Corner.