originally written by Erik Highter
Tweak Bird used to fit their name to a T.
The Bird brothers would hone in on one sound or style for an entire song, then flit off to an entirely unrelated musical concept or genre for the next. Their records were unfocused, adventurous, surprising, and sometimes frustrating; but at the same time, they were absolutely captivating. Their new album, Any Ol’ Way, finds Ashton and Caleb dialing back on the constant changes of direction to make the psychedelic stoner rock record they’ve flirted with for years.
It’s not just the tighter focus that sets Any Ol’ Way apart from their prior releases. Tweak Bird has typically employed the near constant high and tight harmony falsettos of the brothers; this time around, the twinned vocals rarely soar together into the upper part of their range. Either Ashton, Caleb, or both are most often in their lower register, which grounds the songs without anchoring them. When they choose to rise high the effect is greater for it isn’t the baseline sound. In addition, by more often separating their voices into high and low, the harmonies are stronger and easier to discern. The change is welcome.
Yet neither the change in focus nor the shift in vocal tone would matter if Tweak Bird didn’t write good enough songs to hold the listener’s attention. The variety pack approach served them well in the past; if a style didn’t quite fit or a song didn’t gel there was a left turn into something else on the immediate horizon. While they cover a range of modern stoner sounds – from desert blues to wah-wah stomp – Any Ol’ Way discards wayward experimentation and instead relies on their ability to write interesting drum lines and memorable riffs.
Take “Greens.” It moves like a train with coal-hungry engine, the bent one-chord guitar riff appearing whenever the shoveler takes a break to wipe his brow. It’s an old trick, deftly executed by Caleb Bird. Despite that hook, the star of “Greens” is Ashton Bird’s drumming. His spot-on cymbal and snare work here and throughout the record is noticeable even on the first listen. The short, clear, double hit that accents the aforementioned bent chord adds to the hiccuping stutter. On “A Sign of Badness;” his drumming works as a harmony line to Caleb’s alternating ascending and descending guitar motif. The complicated rhythm Ashton lays down for the verses of “A Sign of Positivity” allow the hippie-dippy vocals to drift, nay waft, through the space like so much smoke blown hither and yon by a swirling breeze set in motion by the drums.
This isn’t to say that Caleb doesn’t get his own chances to shine or carry the weight. The album centerpiece, “Mild Manor,” is a motorik chugger stripped to it’s bare essentials, with Ashton building movement through repetition. Left virtually alone to grab the listener’s ear, Caleb is able to modulate his playing in consistently interesting and engaging ways via small tweaks and subtle pedal work. On “Inspiration Point,” he approaches the verses as 60s R&B a la Steve Cropper (albeit with his fuzz clearly set at “stoner heaven”) while also laying down some of the thickest, heaviest riffs he’s ever done in the intro, choruses, and outro.
Any Ol’ Way isn’t going to change the “Ween meets the Melvins” tag that was slapped on them roughly six years ago. However, for perhaps the first time, Tweak Bird subsumes those disparate artists into a sound truly their own.