It seems it’s the season for female-led boy-girl duos. With the Blow currently burning up indie kids’ iPods like this month’s Regina Spektor, you’ve got to predict a replacement for “True Affection” (or for you maybe it’s “Parentheses”?) pretty soon. The tune could just be courtesy of the Bird and the Bee. Oh, see — the band’s MySpace profile just ticked over 100,000 views as I’m writing this.
Inara George, the daughter of a ’70s Southern rock musician, is a fan of those old jazz standards. So’s Greg Kurstin, and that’s how they met, apparently. On George’s solo work (she released an album last year called All Rise) this jazz influence is a lot stronger than on the Bird and the Bee’s debut. Kurstin, though, has some pretty impressive chops behind him too, like studying jazz piano with Mingus’s pianist and writing/producing for the Flaming Lips and even Lily Allen. Together, with George responsible for the vocal melodies and Kursting the harmonies and instrumentals, the Bird and the Bee have created a sweet electronica-dusted pop sound with an easy jazz basis but a complex musicality.
This is another record that took its time to grow on me. At first dismissed as indie middle-of-the-roaders with a bit of blog attention, in the vein of Imogen Heap or Au Revoir Simone or even a watered-down Broadcast, the group’s tunes are quiet, but catchy in the way that repeat listens reinforce rather than wear out. And joined by a few instrumentalists for their live shows in the CMJ festival earlier this month, the band gained a respectable honorable mention. On record not so much wet-dream as dream-pop, George’s potentially sultry, breathy voice is turned to introspection and cute observation rather than seduction. Lines like “It’s so stupid and perfect and stupid and perfect… I hate you, I want you, I hate you, I hate you” could be about sex, sure, but equally point to youth’s capriciousness, deliciously.
But the “obsessive web of influences” is right on. It’s as if the group has set out to make as diverse a record as possible, and in the process has assimilated sounds from all over the jazz-and-pop spectrum. The funny thing is, just about all the songs emerge sounding interesting in an unexpected way, and they all emerge sounding quite adequately like a Bird and the Bee song. From the classic jazz/rhythmless recitative of “Bird and the Bees”, to the video game-whirl of “I Hate Camera” that was done earlier this year by Brooklyn group Au Revoir Simone, to flecks of Lily Allen on “Because” (or is that just me?), female singer-songwriters and indie-electronica form an impossible-to-ignore backdrop for these songs.
At their best, though, the Bird and the Bee is able to overcome simple imitation, allowing quirks of individual personality to shine through. “Again & Again” and “F-cking Boyfriend”, though they appeared on the band’s previous teaser EP, are still standout tracks, the former full of West Coast sunshine, cloaked in an unexpectedly jumping melody and acoustic guitar strums, and the latter with its rising and rising loop (and unexpected swear). Ethereal closer “Spark” farewells the album fondly and sweetly, its Baroque synths wandering upwards into never-ending optimism. Throughout, the Bird and the Bee rely on the drum machine as an integral part of their sound; its steady swishes become as familiar as George’s breathy voice.
The Bird and the Bee deserves the two or three spins it takes to become a fast favourite. The first time, these songs sound like catchy pop (and little more); the second, uncannily familiar; the third, they come together to form an endearingly confluent and pleasingly unconventional electronic pop record. Give these guys a listen.