If you receive a $10 Amazon or iTunes gift card this Christmas, there’s no better way to spend it than to purchase For the Birds: The Birdsong Project, a massive 245-track, 13 hour extravaganza featuring Sarah Davachi, Hatis Noit, Hania Rani and a whole host of our favorite poets, musicians and artists. The project was the dream child of Randall Poster, who noticed that birdsong seemed even crisper during the pandemic, was concerned about species extinction, and wanted to do something for the birds. Hundreds of artists were eager to participate: actors reading poems, field recordists capturing tweets, singers writing songs, instrumental artists weaving birdsong into ambient and electronic settings. The project blossomed into a multi-media event, with sculptures, concerts, and an extravagant 20-album box set with beautiful artwork and extensive liner notes, although at $400 a bit over most Christmas budgets. But as proceeds benefit the National Audubon Society, there’s no way to go wrong; those on a budget can still get all the music, and those blessed with a whole lot of money can purchase a keepsake LP version.
The project received a lot of high-profile coverage when it was announced, but few writers seem to have played the whole thing and reported back. I’ve been rotating through the set from summer to early winter, eventually culling the collection to half its length: five personal playlists totaling six and a half hours. While half of the collection is instrumental, many of my top tracks are not; there are some exquisite lyrics here, and tender readings of some of my favorite poems, along with many new discoveries. After playing all of these playlists multiple times through, I am pleased to report that the project is endlessly fascinating and essential. The only reason it doesn’t appear on our list of all-time compilations is that it took so long to play and process. I’ll list some of my picks below, but the set’s length defies thorough review. The bottom line is: buy it while it’s still affordable.
In chronological order by track listing, here are only a few of the highlights. Beck contributes an ambient “Archangel,” with acoustic guitar, birdsong and wordless vocals. Mark Ronson, Damon Albarn and Wale‘s “Bird Calling” is the rare – if not unique – rap song about birds, and would not seem out of place on a Gorillaz album. El Búho – no stranger to birdsong – invites Emilie Basez to share space on the gorgeous Spanish language “Una Melodia.” Hatis Noit is in fine form, as “Birds Return” also features the return of instruments to her repertoire. The Haden Triplets take up the a cappella form on “Cuckoo Bird.” Dan Deacon‘s percussive, bell-laden “Birdsong for Randy” is not only one of the best tracks here, it’s one of his best tracks. Big band swing surfaces on the sprightly “Ostrich Walk,” from Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks. Isabella Summers’ “The Maddening Hour, Or Ode to Owl” is highly dramatic, a gothic adventure filled with hoots and thunderclaps.
Poppy Ackroyd‘s “Hanover Birds” is the best of a number of piano pieces, filled with fluttering scales. Emile Haynie bakes retro trip-hop flavors into “Birdies for Rp,” a sensuous head-bopping production. Eluvium‘s “Loon Song” is a gorgeous glimpse of the direction in which the composer has been headed, while preparing for the release of his orchestral album next spring. And Chris Watson and Jana Winderen each contribute sumptuous soundscapes so that listeners can enjoy the purity of birdsong in its natural habitat.
It’s time to get some tunes and save some birds ~ Merry Christmas, everyone! (Richard Allen)