Music Review: The Bird and the Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future (2009)


There is nothing particularly special about the concept behind Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. It’s a collection of largely electronically-backed pop songs performed by The Bird and the Bee, a relatively low profile duo comprised of Inara George and Greg Kurstin These sorts of things shower in every year, and usually deservedly fall through the cracks of most music critic’s To Listen lists. So what separates The Bird and the Bee from the crowd? Well, on their latest release, they do it not by making any attempt to change the formula, but by pushing the formula to its limits and creating some of the smoothest, catchiest pop songs you’re likely to hear all year.

After mildly annoying and entirely unnecessary opener “Fanfare”, “My Love” hits and sets the mood for the album. It opens with a beat suitable for a cheerleader chant, and an opening verse from Inara George, immediately comparable in delivery to Lily Allen. Indeed, the entire album maintains a sort of Lily Allen-light feel (in fact Kurstin worked with Allen on her debut album); there is swagger, beats that border on trip-hop and infectious melodies, but the affair is lighter on the funk and heavier on chilled out pop. Next comes “Diamond Dave”, on which the Lily Allen comparison is too obvious for TBatB’s own good. Nevertheless, it is one of the more enjoyable songs due to its upbeat confidence and well constructed melodies. “What’s In the Middle” is a little more low key, opening with a light bass groove and a monotone vocal delivery. The chorus takes a turn for the dream-like in which Inara sings “I wanna go to bed, I wanna lose my head”. After an unexpected but welcome (and brief) guitar solo, a shower of vocal layers and one more chorus, comes title track “Ray Gun”. Inara alters her voice from the previous three songs to achieve a wispy, tender sound that is a welcome change of pace, and reinforces the chorus: “I want a pretty little life”. “Love Letter to Japan” offers listeners their first real chance to get down, and unapologetically so. The chorus is appropriately cheesy and catchy, and while there is hardly any depth to the song, it’s a fun way pick up the pace after the last two tracks slowed things down. “Meteor”, accentuated by well-placed “ooh la la-la’s” is uneventful but still solid, and continues the pace of the album. “Baby” slows things down, but doesn’t give up any of the positives of the more upbeat songs. Arpeggiated piano sweeps through the song, and Inara’s vocals are stronger here than on any other track. A spoken section in the middle tries it’s best to ruin the song, but thankfully fails. 10 second track “Phil” leads into “Polite Dance Song” which is unfortunately aptly named. The first verse gives the impression that the song could be the album’s first misstep, with the too-generic-to-forgive lyrics, “Give it up for me please, put your hands in the air, if you know what’s good for you wanna shake it like you just don’t care”, made all the more cringe-worthy by the fact that is in fact sung quite politely. However, the bold chorus not only redeems the verse, but gives the impression that it was probably just a joke. It’s certainly the weakest song thus far, but is by no means a throwaway. “You’re a Cold” is a mid-tempo number with a nice dosage of funk. There is nothing wrong with the song itself, but it feels undoubtedly like it was done before, although a romping piano section midway through alleviates this somewhat. Up to this point, the album is almost perfectly paced and consistent, but it could have used a more distinctive song in “You’re A Cold”’s place. “Witch” is a bit more distinctive with an almost haunting melody and some dark effects, but doesn’t do enough to keep the album from sounding like it’s running out of steam. “Birthday” gets the album back on track with a beautiful chorus, the type of which listeners will by now be expecting, but still anticipating. It’s a simple song, but stands out and moves the album back in the right direction after the uneventful previous two tracks. Album closer “Lifespan of a Fly” is by far the most minimal track, and one of the most distinctive. “I have no regrets for anything I’ve done/ I feel I’ve lived as good as anyone/ Remember me as best you can/ So I might outlive my lifespan”. It’s an appropriately direct song, and an appropriate final track.

Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future is a remarkably consistent collection of both chilled out and upbeat pop songs that will grab your ear on the first listen, and grow an you for several more. It’s not terribly deep, the influences it draws are too obvious for comfort in some areas, and it probably could have stood to have been a few tracks shorter, but it remains for the most part a fun, consistently great collection that should be sitting in your stereo for a good while.

Final Score: 8.3/10

Highlights: My Love, Diamond Dave, Ray Gun, Baby


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