2022 might be the Year of the Birds. First came the massive compilation For the Birds: The Birdsong Project, then Christopher Tin’s opera The Lost Birds, and now Nonsemble‘s Archaeopteryx. Many of today’s birds – even some of the most popular ones – are endangered, and all of these efforts help to bring attention to their plight. While some concentrate on the ones that are still around, Archaeopteryx focuses on pre-historic birds, the timbre more celebratory than melancholy, although reflective moments are scattered among the soaring segments.
Each track offers the opportunity to imagine a long-lost species. The South American Argentavis was the first to be spotlighted, the six-minute original also available in a four-minute radio edit. This gentle piece implies a gentle bird, belying its 5-6-meter wing span. One can picture it swooping through the skies, not a care in the world. The track builds to a period of pounding drums and a sense of bursting through the clouds, paired on the single with “Flight Feathers,” which Nonsemble calls the ambient outro. There’s also a fine remix from Madeleine Cocolas, in which organ tones rise to the foreground, contributing a sense of majesty. The remix might be an even better match for “Flight Feathers,” save for the fact that the two tracks bleed into one on the album.
The second single, “Phorusrhacos,” is named after a “giant carnivorous flightless terror bird,” not something that most humans would want to encounter; in this case, they never will. The music is appropriately aggressive, although it breaks into a beautiful beatless patch at 1:29. The return of the snares is elegant, the finale processional. MJ O’Neill imagines the bird becoming airborne, and creates a techno track with amplified bass, rocking drums and a feeling of aerial dominance. The third single is the album’s opening track, “Pelagornis,” named after a “pseudotooth bird” related to pelicans and storks. As a slow-building track, it’s perhaps less suited to the single format than the lead-off spot, and emphasizes the fact that when the album is released next week, the best way to listen is straight through. The tracks form an inter-connected suite, as if a camera is shifting attention from one section of the sky or earth to another, capturing each species in turn.
The whole album builds to the title track, a jubilant explosion of sound, like flocks taking flight, filling the air with extended wings. Sonically resurrected, the “oldest known fossil bird,” which belongs to a genus of dinosaurs, is glad to be back and promises, despite its “killing claw,” not to hurt any humans should we choose to mass-harvest its DNA. The final squawks may indicate otherwise, but the general impression is one of freedom: gone, but not forgotten. Nonsemble’s implication: these species may be gone, but we still have the power to save those that remain. (Richard Allen)