Birdsongs of the Mesozoic
home about music

home > press > articles

Album Reviews by Rick Anderson
Read Other Articles

The Fossil RecordThe Fossil Record 1980-1987
Cuneiform 55 1993
*** 1/2

The phoenix that rose from the ashes of Mission of Burma looked disconcertingly like... well, a pterodactyl. By the time Birdsongs of the Mesozoic’s first EP was released, in 1983, Mission of Burma (of which Birdsongs keyboardist Roger Miller and guitarist Martin Swope were charter members, though on different instruments) had dissolved, and Birdsongs subsequently became a full-time gig. The Fossil Record collects rare and unreleased studio recordings from a period beginning with the band’s earliest days and ending with Miller’s departure in 1988. The album opens with a 1980 version of Sound Valentine (which would be the lead track on the band’s debut EP three years later) and bops between spiky, modal minimalist pieces (Pulse Piece), slabs of zen aggression (Chen/The Arousing), prehistoric tarantellas (Lqabblil Insanya) and unexpected cover versions (Brian Eno’s Sombre Reptiles). Very few bands have ever managed to straddle the worlds of modern classical music and rock as successfully as this one did. This compilation makes a good introduction to its art, though the eponymous EP and Magnetic Flip LP (most of the contents of which were released as Sonic Geology on Rykodisc) are also both highly recommended.

Cuneiform 19 1989

This was the first Birdsongs of the Mesozoic album to be released after the departure of keyboardist and founding member Roger Miller. He was briefly replaced by reedman Steve Adams, who left before the completion of Faultline to join ROVA, a San Francisco-based saxophone quartet. Saxophonist Ken Field stepped in to take his place, helped to finish the album and subsequently became a permanent member of the band. The addition of reed instruments marked a fundamental change in the band’s sound. Instead of a rather architectural, if raw, sound based on the interaction of twin keyboards, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic began to sound a little bit jazzier, if no less structurally rigorous and aggressive. On Coco Boudakian guitarist Martin Swope sounds uncannily like Arto Lindsay; the title track rocks out in a blocky but complex way. But there are several moments of serene beauty as well, in particular the limpid Steve Adams composition that ends the program. Highly recommended.

Cuneiform 35 1992

With Pyroclastics, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic returned somewhat to its roots. Its signature sound -- pulsing keyboards, jagged harmonies, weird time signatures, slash-and-burn guitar -- is back stronger than ever; Shortwave Longride and Pleasure Island would both have sounded more or less at home on Magnetic Flip (except for the presence of Ken Field’s saxophone). And the band’s hilarious rendition of the theme from The Simpsons is a wry look backwards as well, a reminder of the arrangement of the Rocky and Bullwinkle theme on their first album. Field has managed to insinuate himself so seamlessly into the Birdsongs sound by this point that while his saxophone lines do alter it noticeably, they do so subtly and from the inside -- note, in particular, the subtle jazz flavoring he gives to Tyronglaea II (otherwise an archetypal piece of old-fashioned Mesozoicism). The band also takes another run at Brian Eno’s Sombre Reptiles (a piece they had tackled in an unreleased recording from 1983) and comes up with a surprisingly gentle (if ultimately unremarkable) rendition of Brian Wilson’s hymn-like Our Prayer. Pyroclastics definitely marks a step forward for this band, but it remains rooted in its old strengths. Recommended.

Dancing On A'ADancing on A’A
Cuneiform 69 1995

Three years passed between the releases of Pyroclastics and Dancing on A’A. During that period, founding member Martin Swope left the band and was replaced by guitarist Michael Bierylo, leaving keyboardists Erik Lindgren and Rick Scott as the only remaining original members of the group. Bierylo adds a certain depth to the band’s sound; on A Band of Deborahs (Not Debbies) his rockabilly-derived guitar part brings a more rounded, bass-y dimension. Saxophonist Ken Field plays flute for the first time on the title track, which also makes for a slightly startling sonic departure. There’s a nice tribute to the band’s other missing charter member, keyboardist Roger Miller, in the form of a version of Miller’s rather apocalyptic Swamp. And these guys being who they are, they just can’t resist a slightly twisted take on pop culture. In the past that urge has been expressed in arrangements of theme songs from children’s TV shows Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Simpsons. This time out it’s an almost-straight rendition of Peter Gunn. This album doesn’t quite hit the spot the way Faultline did, but it’s certainly worth hearing.

Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic

Quote of the Moment: