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Hey Mercedes & The Firebird Band
The Firebird Band
The Setting Sun and it's Satellites (Headhunter/Cargo)
by Tim Den
So the legacy continues... as two new bands try to convince us that their existence justifies the demise of the almighty Braid. First up, Hey Mercedes, featuring 3/4ths of Braid's last line-up (guitarist/vocalist Bob Nanna, bassist [and now backup vocalist] Todd Bell, and drummer Damon Atkinson). Anyone who loved Frame and Canvas and the last Braid recordings ("Please Drive Faster" and "You're Lucky to be Alive") will love this band. Focusing more on the melody, as their former band was starting to do toward the end of their career, Hey Mercedes is an enormous Good Time speeding down the cornfield-lined highways of the Midwest, singing songs and spouting poetry. Gone are the tricky timings and calculated pauses (to the dismay of many), but stronger are those golden hooks. I swear, you can't help but play EP over and over again, just for those special notes he hits, even if the four songs are a bit too long and repetitive at times. Straightforward and making no attempt to hide their love for pop structures, Hey Mercedes is the logical extension of Braid.
The Firebird Band, on the other hand, is guitarist/vocalist Chris Broach trying to sound like anything but his old band. Initially a side project, The Firebird Band has been creating drum machine-based, minimalist jangly rock since '97. While a lot of people are giving Broach credit for making this odd-sounding outfit his full-time thing, others are confused and downright turned off by its weak-natured compositions and wishy-washy vocals. Broach's semi-shouting, semi-singing delivery is as trademarked as ever, but it somehow sounds out-of-place in the midst of the band's electronic Sisters of Mercy surroundings (not to mention wardrobe). There are moments of clarity when a riff or synth breathes life into stagnancy, but those moments are few and far between. Maybe our expectations are getting the best of us, barring us from truly understanding The Firebird Band's "thing" simply because it doesn't sound like what we want it to sound like. Or maybe it's just not very inspired.
Conclusion: No, nothing's worth losing Braid, but these two bands are clearly doing their best. Both are pursuing agendas that make them unlike each other. And if something worthwhile should come from a break-up, it'd be trying new things. In that sense, both are successes (if I'm being too middle-of-the-road for you, just do this: get Hey Mercedes, download some of The Firebird Band from Napster and see if you like it before you buy it).
(PO Box 1885 Danville, IL 61834; 4901-906 Morena Blvd. San Diego, CA 92117)