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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Declan de Barra
Song Of A Thousand Birds
Rogue Goat

Rating: 8/10 ?


March 6, 2006
It's all well and good to dream of peace and love, but when you're squirming under someone else's thumb, the fire of rebellion burns in your belly. That's as true for the Kurds of Iraq as it is for the Irish, or even the mentally unstable postal worker who dreams of bringing an Uzi to work and blasting the boss that rides his ass day after day after day. There's a difference, of course, but not to that guy getting a tongue lashing for arriving at work a minute late or not asking first before going to the bathroom. There are workplaces where that happens, you know.

On his first solo album, released late in 2005, former Clann Zu singer Declan de Barra sounds ready to take up arms against his oppressors, whoever they may be. The Irish national moved back to the country of his birth in 2002 after spending years living in Australia, where de Barra recruited musicians from all musical faiths, from classical to punk, to join him in a crusade against all that's unholy and wrong about modern pop music. He won a few battles, with his old band making some of the most challenging, purely beautiful - if impossible to categorize - music of this age, but de Barra's losing the war.

Striking out alone, de Barra continues the fight with the spellbinding Song Of A Thousand Birds, a tradition-bound blend of mournful dirges, black rebel songs and uplifting folk that's inherently Irish. Surrounding himself with contemporary Irish musicians like cellist Turlough Gunawardhana from The Chapters, bassist Richie Egan from Redneck Manifesto, drummer Cion O'Callaghan from Paddy Casey's band and famed fiddle player Adrian Hart, de Barra cuts a romantic, revolutionary figure with that wailing voice of his. His most pained performance comes in opening stanzas of the title track. Thin threads of acoustic guitar and drawn out cello create an atmosphere as bleak as the Potato Famine, and de Barra, singing "They cut off our branches but we'll grow them back/our roots are too deep in this soil burnt and black," sounds both heroic and hopeless. Then, as minimal as it is, the instrumentation goes silent, and there's the sound of marching boots and tired men moaning in the background, while an impassioned de Barra tries to marshal their courage.

The sometimes tragic, often bloody history of Ireland hangs over this record like a guillotine (yes, I know, that's France). While not referencing any events specifically, de Barra brings to bear all the doomed fatalism and spirited willfulness of his ancestors in vocals that come across like Jeff Buckley playing Irish hero Michael Collins. That's also his undoing. There are moments when all that emoting he does feels staged and disingenuous, like a suburban white kid trying to relate to NWA. Well, maybe that's a little extreme. After all, de Barra is Irish and he did endure some of the economic hardships of Ireland in the 1980s before moving to Australia as a teen. Actually, what really rubs people the wrong way are de Barra's vocals, namely his penchant for wild histrionics, like in "Throw Your Arms Around Me." That's a matter of taste. Most of the time, I don't think he goes too far and to my ears, his voice has a wonderfully fragile tremor to it that lends an endearing vulnerability to songs like "Slow Dissolve." Drowning in noir-ish, watery guitar, de Barra emits a lilting croon here that soars like Roy Orbison, only not quite as clean.

Debate, if you must, de Barra's vocalizing, but pray, do not quibble good sir with the melodies - sometimes stark, sometimes lush - or the minimal, yet expressive instrumentation. Swimming quietly at night, "Apple Tree" is immersed in shimmering guitar and sinking cello, while the Nick Cave-like "Blackbird Song" builds and swirls, getting lost in clouds of memories. Dark piano circles and gently crushes your dreams in "Someday Soon," while "Curfew" dies the slow death of a brokenhearted alcoholic to tarnished acoustic guitar.

This is music that murmurs likes monks wanting to break their vows of silence and communicate without getting caught. It's delicate and full of hurt, woe and want, whether the desire is for freedom, love or a hot meal, a warm coat and shelter from the cold, cruel world. But is it honest? Shit, give the guy a break. He's been wandering around Dublin trying to finish this thing in basements and other empty spaces he could find. If that's not being true to your art, then what is?

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad

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