At the start of 2011 I had no idea who the Night Birds were. Call me clueless, call me what you will, but their early releases had passed me by until I heard a track via a posting on a social networking site. Following that, I was able to get a copy of the compilation CD that Grave Mistake so helpfully released mid-way through the year, and from then on I was sold on the band. Therefore, this, their debut long-player has been up there on my "eagerly awaiting" list from the moment I knew of its release date.
If you've heard the band, then you're probably already hooked into their '80s style, Northern and Southern Californian brand of punk rock: full, as it is, of fast, snotty tunes that keep coming at you until it's time to hit the play button again or turn the vinyl over. If you've only read about them, then you've no doubt seen bands such as the Dead Kennedys, D.I. and the Adolescents mentioned, as this seems to be the sound they aim to achieve, and do so with ease. If you've never heard of the band, then the above will give you a brief insight into what to expect if you decide to go down the Night Birds' route of punk rock. Basically, if you've not heard the band at all, then this is something you must remedy–they have a nostalgic approach that doesn't sound too old or too modern, managing to hit the right note in terms of combining old and new, all whilst producing some cracking, cranked-up tuneage.
The music has almost a threatening edge to it, much like the first Dead Kennedys album did, with quite a sinister sounding guitar that provides distinctiveness to their sound and works well in setting the tone for their output. It's not all about the guitar, though, despite its prominence in the sound, as the bass provides some well-placed intricacy alongside the snappy attack of the drums. Given the surf element displayed by the guitar, it's no surprise to find an instrumental track on the album, "Day After Trinity", which highlights the importance that that particular guitar sound has on the band.
It could be said that the Night Birds are a goofball band, but one does need to dig a little deeper into the lyrics to find that this is not really the case. The subject matter of the songs is quite wide-ranging, although it would be fair to say that lyrically they all seem to contain an element of the bizarre or obscure whilst occasionally raising an interesting point of view. With the album kicking off with "Demon Haunted World", you quickly realise that there is a continued horror influence over this band as well, which adds to the reasons why I like them so much.
Another song worthy of mention is "Hoffman Lens", which following a bit of internet detective work led me to the film They Live, in which glasses with specific lenses allow people to see the real world in which they live as opposed to the more comfy and cosy false one the government allows them to see–maybe a statement on what many people need today, seeing as many are still blinkered to the power that governments and corporations hold over us. If I'd been listening properly on the first few listens, I'd also have noticed that there are chorus-like yells of "they live!", which would also have pointed me in the direction of the film that influenced the song!
The penultimate track, "Paranoid Times" really is the catchiest one on the album and is my personal favourite out of the 13 songs making up The Other Side of Darkness, as it rips along with the simple sing-along quality that I frequently long for in songs. Whether that is simply because it has been released before and I am already familiar with it will be determined on further listens of the album. "Paranoid Times" is one of the longest tracks on the album, albeit still being under the three-minute mark; however, brevity is the key here, with 10 tracks coming in at less than two minutes long, so there is no hanging around as the songs come flying thick and fast with the pace kept up from start to finish. The only really slow bit on the whole album is the intro to the title track, which, when it finishes before really kicking in reminds me of M.I.A.'s cover of "California Dreaming", and the wait before the song really begins after the intro.
With a very early '80s (even late '70s)-style packaging, all black and white with handwritten lyrics, Night Birds are clearly wearing their influences on their sleeves, and the whole album is a worthy contender for 2011 Top Ten status in anyone's listing. Great work by the band and label alike.
The Night Birds are shortly due on European (UK and mainland continent) soil for a decent-sized tour, so check out their website for dates near you and go and see what they're like–I'd imagine it will be carnage. I'll be one of the unfortunate ones that cannot make it, though, not being able to do the 400-mile round trip on a work night, so I will have to live vicariously through reports from people who do get that pleasure.