August 11, 2011

Review: Bill Baird :: Goodbye Vibrations

After Sound Team’s Capitol Records debut Movie Monster was panned by Pitchfork in 2006, founding member Bill Baird hilariously reenacted the review with homemade footage of a dummy being literally stabbed with a pitchfork, thrown off a cliff, and lit on fire. The video is a surprisingly accurate snapshot of Baird as an artist, with its do-it-yourself approach and aesthetic, dead-pan humor, and eye for detail, like the comically dramatic piano score he composed for the video. After Sound Team's breakup in 2007, that DIY mentality became Baird's M.O.: he founded his own studio in Austin out of an old blues bar and Fish R Us called Baby Blue, where he now hosts shows, has recorded bands like Jesse Woods and Generationals, and records and releases his own material, including a string of releases by his band Sunset.

Last week, the prolific Baird released his latest album: an intimate 8-song break-up record dubbed Goodbye Vibrations. Unlike his 2010 Sunset LP Loveshines But The Moon Is Shining Too—a nuanced, and decoratively arranged concept album—Goodbye Vibrations has a very sparse canvas that's often filled with nothing more than Baird’s voice, a finger-plucked electrified guitar, and a background hiss of amps and recording equipment. It’s a startlingly intimate, warm, and raw sound that often feels like a live set taped in a friend’s basement or living room. There’s no studio sheen here, but rather a beaten and kicked around lo-fi quality that lends itself to Baird’s theme of lost love.

However, as dark as this record sounds on paper, there's also a humor to the songs delivered in the form of brutal honesty, like in album opener, “We'll Meet Again Someday, or We Won't.” Baird sings: "You can’t see me anymore / What used to be my face now seems to be a door / To another life beyond what we had / You’re leaving me, but it makes me kinda glad." The relationship here is beyond repair, plagued with irreconcilable differences, and the album is its farewell love letter: 8 songs decorated with 50 Polaroid portraits.

Goodbye Vibrations is laced with contrasting images of fire and snow, which seemingly represent love and its loss. But simply being in love isn’t that simple, as Baird notes in “Burn Burn Burn Burn,” a tale of love-inspired self-destruction where fire incinerates everything in its path: "And when this burning city's gone / The impule to destroy will linger on / It’s a lifestyle we can’t quell / So we'll burn away ourselves and I'll see you on the sunny side of hell.”

As a fan of Baird’s work with Sunset where the emphasis is on lush instrumentation and musical exploration, it’s a treat to bring the songwriter’s words to the forefront. The track “Caroline” is particularly vivid with its images of a decomposing and ignored relationship depicted in walls of peeled paint and piles of unshoveled snow. "Caroline" appears to relate a conversation that precipitated the end, with the narrator clearly having heard enough: “Kind words can do a lot, but there's no replacing time / If you’d kindly just stop talking, pour me another glass of wine.”

Baird ends the LP with the title-track, “Goodbye Vibrations.” Over quiet lingering notes of guitar, he sings: “So long my darling, so long / I’ll carry your vibration as I travel on.” It’s a beautiful line that works on a number of levels, from the idea of an ex living on in song to the associative power of music and its ability to trigger emotions and memory.

In 2011, with current musical fads emphasizing electronic and computer-based instrumentation and voices now often hid under masks of reverb and effects, Goodbye Vibrations is an analog relief—introspective, flawed, and human.

Goodbye Vibrations is available digitally and in vinyl format here. The vinyl is limited to 50 copies and each comes with its own unique Polaroid photograph.

Bill Baird - "We'll Meet Again Someday, or We Won't" (from Goodbye Vibrations)

Bill Baird - "Burn Burn Burn Burn" (from Goodbye Vibrations)


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