The cover is intriguing. The angles are askew, the focus is fuzzy, and birds and eggs decorate the distorted landscape. Then there’s that duck, whose eyes lie on one side of its head like a flatfish. The message: this isn’t a normal modern composition album. It’s a little bit jazz, a little bit cabaret and a whole lot of fun.
Falling Into Birds is the project of composer Joey M. Bishop, who has recruited six additional musicians for this venture. The presence of piano, brass, strings, guitar and drums allows the album to slide comfortably into seats normally reserved for post-rock, especially those of a more theatrical bent. Take for example the tempo and timbre shifting opener, “Syzygy”, which drops from 152 BPM to 64 BPM in a heartbeat without launching the passengers from their seats. The entire enterprise is carefully choreographed. With so much going on, there’s little room to deviate from the score: a note here, a note there, then back to the main frame. While each instrument takes turns in the spotlight, their alignment is perfect, reflecting the title. As the themes return, tumbling over each other like lottery tickets, they become more familiar, but the piece continues to accumulate energy by applying new elements. The final minute contains noticeable woodblock and a final surge before the drums draw the curtain down.
The album takes a breather after the overture, continuing to work from the same template, albeit slower and more languid. “In Zapoy” imitates the disorientation of a bender, stumbling around the streets and sprawling in an alley. “Love Is a Plague” would be the likely choice for single, as it’s short and punchy, with a relatable title. The path is now clear for the longer works, one in three parts and another in two.
From the opening moments of “The Intrepid Eleven: No Home”, one feels a sense of weight. “The Intrepid Eleven: Rhadamanthine” is looser than its title implies: nary a whiff of judgment, only deep bass and brass. The titles (although not the music) might have been better reversed. Had the judge been more rhadamanthine, perhaps the defendant, still aching from alcohol abuse, would not have chosen to end in a “Blaze of Glory”. The tone of the piece is decidedly unrepentant. Lesson learned? Apparently not. We follow this thread to its inevitably bitter end (although we don’t feel at all bitter, because the ensemble is still having fun). The two-part “Apotheosis” references Kafka through trial and metamorphosis, adding to the surreal impression that began with the cover. The strings grow as agitated as Samsa, the percussion offering only a shifting floor. By the end, the room is littered with eggs. But what will hatch from them? (Richard Allen)