Birds of Avalon - Uncanny Valley (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Birds of Avalon

Uncanny Valley (2009)


Writing spacey, psychedelic jams is a tricky proposition. Get too loose, and one risks formlessness; making the songs too tight risks rigid formula. For the most part, Birds of Avalon succeed with the style on Uncanny Valley. Bearing passable resemblances to Portugal. The Man, Ghost of the Russian Empire, the Raconteurs and, of course, the 13th Floor Elevators, the band crafts relatively tight psych-rock tunes.

Of the album's 11 tracks, six are worthwhile. Though always guitar-driven, the band shows a mastery of all things rocking ("Side Two"), spacious ("I Never Knew") and grooving ("Your Downtime Is Up"). If you're a fan of all things echo-y and otherworldly, Uncanny Valley is for you. The tracks aren't too self-indulgent either. A song like "Eyesore" cycles through psychedelic ideas at a faster rate, without getting too ADD-addled on rhythms. The result is that fine line between roomy and tight arrangements I mentioned earlier. While it still doesn't sound like it, Uncanny Valley holds to some of pop music's ideals, namely shorter songs. More than half of the tracks are under three minutes long. Only two break the four-minute mark.

That sort of discipline could stand to be followed more often, however. The band adds too much ambient noise in certain spots (hereafter known as "pulling a Mars Volta"). It's OK when they do it on introductory track "Unkaany Valley." At 22 seconds, it's just fanfare segueing into the first real song, "Side Two." But when they try going longer than that, such as on "Last Rites (Funky Side)," it kills the album's momentum. It essentially makes the closing two tracks after it sound worse than they are, if only because "Last Rites" will kill off interest that easily. Given that the record is only a half-hour total, that's precious time. Track five, "Dadcage," further hinders the flow.

Of course, one could argue that Uncanny Valley attempts to showcase several different ideas. While the record is easily classifiable as psych, there are still varying tangents flowing throughout. Which is why the band must have felt OK with following "Spirit Lawyer," arguably the catchiest and hardest rocking song on the album, with something as completely inverted as "Last Rites." So cut Birds of Avalon a break; they travel a difficult path.