“The sign above the door says ‘no solicitors’, whereas the vines along the wall scream ‘no visitors at all…'”
These are the words that welcome us to the world of No Place, the third full-length record from progressive hardcore Californians A Lot Like Birds. While Conversation Piece, the band’s previous record, was a chaotic and abrasive approach to the progressive rock scene, No Place finds A Lot Like Birds in cautious territory, taking note of every move they make and making sure that each of these moves are worth the steps. What they’ve managed to hold inside the record is something that fans have been waiting patiently for, and the growth of talent is an extremely welcome bonus.
Given that No Place is a concept record describing the backbone of a dilapidated (whether it be physical or mental) house, it’s more than appropriate to accompany those aforementioned softly-spoken lyrics with the classic Westminster doorbell chime. The result of the two is the album’s perfect introduction track, titled “In Trances”.
As expected, things kick into high gear with the next track, “No Nature”. If “In Trances” was the introduction, then “No Nature” acts as exchanging pleasantries, as the song is a cumulative look into just what ALLB are as a band. It begins with such ferocity that’ll probably kick your teeth in and transcends into a thought-provoking piece that may make you kick your teeth in yourself. The song comes with its own little interludes within it to change gears, a staple of ALLB’s songwriting. Within one of these interludes is a new addition to the band’s style of writing: spoken lyrics. Granted, Conversation Piece had rhythmic speech involved, but what we’re hearing on No Place, and just within the first two tracks, is a very clear change in the delivery of speech…and it totally works. The best part of “No Nature” is a segment in which vocalists Cory Lockwood and Kurt Travis trade off speaking and screaming duties, including a chill-inducing line from Lockwood: “This isn’t your home anymore. It’s mine. It’s ours.”
“No Nurture” starts off eerily calm, even calmer than the intro to “Truly Random Code” off of Conversation Piece. Something ALLB have perfected is the ability to include screams in a serene setting and have it come out with flying colors. This track is no exception. The entirety of the six-minute song is kept rather instrumentally hushed, showcasing the true growth of guitarists Ben Wiacek and Michael Franzino and bassist Michael Littlefield. Some of Lockwood’s darkest lyrics come out of the woodwork on this track, especially within the supremely haunting ending: “They say ‘like father, like son’…is that the reason that every time a person loves me, I find it hard to love them back?”
The chaos makes a welcome return in the form of “Next to Ungodliness”, the latest single from the record. The skeleton of the track is the bathroom of this tormented house, as expressed through Travis’ lyrics regarding mirrors: “…And on this wall: a different reflection, I can recall it’s not the same face.” The track’s technical work soars, making it an ideal single. Following that is “Connector”, the embodiment of the house’s hallways. Drummer Joe Arrington really shines through on this track; his technical handiwork hasn’t slipped in the slightest and has, in fact, grown tremendously.
Up next is “Myth of Lasting Sympathy”, which acts as an intermission of sorts (think “In Trances, Pt. Two”), expressing darkness, the longing of sleep, and nightmares. “Hand Over Mouth, Over and Over” is Travis’ vocal high point on the record, as the song is perpetually his until Lockwood enters with his newfound poetic speech, then switching gears as he screams away the ending. “Kuroi Ledge” is the first taste we had of No Place and my thoughts from the single review that I penned are still ringing true. This is truly one of the best songs they’ve collectively written (maybe even better than “Vanity’s Fair”, a personal favorite) as every member can be recognized for their outstanding growth.
“Recluse” finds us in the house’s attic. Halfway through, Lockwood and Travis take the reins together to welcome us to this place, making it seem like a carnival of sorts. The track closes with Lockwood’s alarmingly dark delivery of the age-old adage “home is where the heart is” and ends rather abruptly to segue into the closing track. “Shaking of the Frame” shows us what we’ve been through, looking back on this house and the rooms we’ve entered, and the emotion it has left us with: “This place is familiar, you used to call it your own. Now there’s nobody home, no, there’s nobody home.”
A Lot Like Birds are ambitious. They’re a band that knows how well-constructed and how talented they are and they wisely took this record to heart when it came down to showing it. It can’t be said that No Place trumps Conversation Piece, because frankly, the two are separate monsters. In terms of musicality, No Place is a byproduct of time well spent in the writing process with a sturdy-as-hell lineup and a solidified sound. Having those in tow, it was inevitable for the band to boost their repertoire in such a fashion. All that being said, No Place is a true feat of excellence. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything and it takes you down the rabbit hole with a spoon and tells you to keep digging. By the end, you’ll know why you agreed to hop down in the first place.
A Lot Like Birds‘ No Place is available now via Equal Vision Records.