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Bird Show - Green Inferno

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Artist: Bird Show

Album: Green Inferno

Label: Kranky

Review date: Jan. 23, 2005

With a guitar-wielding hand in at least five Chicago bands, Ben Vida has certainly earned the right of withdrawal to his home studio for the occasional solo disc. As Bird Show, he taps the crowded drone bandwidth and meshes it with the transnational rattle and thrum of varied folk instruments, from a purring accordion to shimmering Zimbabwean thumb piano. Luckily lacking Luaka Bop-like manicured handling, Bird Show’s studies in sonic syncretism largely succeeds on Green Inferno, its debut release.

Though best known as a member of Town & Country, Vida’s private recordings have little of the group’s regal softness. Pealing like an air raid siren, Green Inferno opener “All Afternoon Part #1” layers violin screeches onto a phasing loop of banshee timbres. The rest of the album, though, belies such alarm. Overall, Green Inferno finds Vida evenly dividing his time between the concrete grid and digital forestry.

“Morning/Evening” starts out as Henry Flynt hillbilly strobe before crumbling into tape runoff only to resume as an icy fractal of sustain with Vida up to his neck in frozen methane. Meanwhile “Landlovers” finds him layering vocals in what sounds like a duet between Arthur Russell’s cascading harmonies and rock bottom Robert Wyatt. On the album’s title track, Vida’s voice swims over the trebly miniature crashes of castanets and tambourine to glide as some Sonic Boom electrical mantra. The record’s centerpiece, though, is all composite academic tonalities. “Always/Never Sleep Part #1”, a near ten-minute suite of quivering organ chords turned to phantom filament by elongation and parceled out between smudged silences. Elsewhere field recordings from Puerto Rico and Tokyo supplied by Fred Lonberg-Holm and Atsuhiro Koizymi, respectively, provide Vida with snippets of open air and, obviously enough, bird twitters to freshen his cloistered trances.

With his box of screaky toys and palm percussion, Vida manages to be a one-man tropical orchestra, albeit one obviously built on the mixing console and festooned in digital abstraction. The future of Bird Show, though, will find Vida joined by bassist/fellow T&C member Liz Payne for both touring and, presumably, albums to come. One can only wonder what will become of Vida’s bedroom shamanism with outside intervention. With such a specific palette at work on Green Inferno, it wouldn’t hurt to further diversify the arsenal. Looking forward to future ragas for berimbau and Prophet-5 already.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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