A Lot Like Birds - DIVISI
A Lot Like Birds garnered some controversy back in February of 2016 when singer Kurt Travis left the band due to creative differences between himself and the band. The departure of the acclaimed vocalist caught fans by surprise and left them disappointed with signs of heartbreak. Despite the departure, A Lot Like Birds vowed to continue making music on their own terms and eventually recorded DIVISI in 2016, which was then released on May 5th, 2017. With two solid albums under their belt in Conversation Piece and No Place, there was curiosity as to how the essence of those albums could be continued or topped without Travis’ presence, as not all fans of the Sacramento progressive post-hardcore act were on board with the band moving on without Kurt. There was a clear line of division between those who preferred Kurt and those who were eager to see what would come of the change, but the band assured fans that this was a new chapter they were excited to embrace, and hoped to be received with open arms.
DIVISI starts off with the opening track “Always Burning, Always Dark,” a haunting, dreamy synthpop track reminiscent of Greg Puciato-fronted darkwave band The Black Queen. The lines “Don’t we all arrive at the same place where we began? Don’t we all arrive where we began?” are repeated with no other lyrics, leaving the listener floating along in a repetitive trance, waiting for something divine. Expansion could have easily increased the track’s likeability. The second track and second single is “The Sound of Us,” which starts off with a siren-type sound, the drums (provided by Joseph Arrington) building up to the verses and chorus about literally star-crossed lovers. This song is easily one of the strongest on the album and one of my favorites. Between vocalist Cory Lockwood’s agonizing lyrics about cinematic space-heartbreak and the classic post-hardcore formula of a catchy chorus paired with booming guitars and drums, there is a simplistic joy with to this track that certainly reminds me of bands like The Used. Next up is “For Shelley (Unheard)”, a gripping ballad about the passing of Lockwood’s mother. The song starts off gently, leading into twinkling synths accompanied by soothing guitar notes. Lyrically, this track is raw, with emotional themes that hit close to home. Heartbreak seems to be the reoccurring theme of the album so far, whether filial or romantic, and it’s apparent in Lockwood’s anguished lines such as “I remember dreaming this wasn’t real” and “You took my hand in your own / said this feels like home.” With an understanding of the background for this song, it leaves a lump in the back of your throat with a side of misty eyes.
Fourth is the track “Trace the Lines,” which features Foxing vocalist Conor Murphy. Starting almost exactly like the first track, there is ambient crooning leading into sof chords, simple drum beats and dramatic string movements. Although slightly repetitive, the song grows into its own around the halfway mark with an angst-driven chorus yelling out “Do you care that it’s over?“ It’s an anthem for the lonely, an emotionally tangible track, especially for fans of Foxing, that explores the same recurring themes as the previous songs with a personable edge. “Atoms in the Evening” sonically continues where “Trace the Lines” left off. A little faster paced than the previous two songs, “Atoms” treads through guitar lines similar to Circa Survive or even that of Japanese post-rock band Toe. Questions about religious faith, guilt and forgiveness are delivered in a swirl of ambiance and melancholy. No sign of the spastic riffs from Conversation Piece at all so far, but this far into the album, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Following “Atoms” is the electronic spoken word track “The Smoother the Stone”. I’d like the point out at this halfway intermission that most fans of ALLB will be familiar with guitarist and primary songwriter Michael Franzino’s solo project alone. Among the numerous reasons for Kurt Travis’s exodus was Travis’s concern that A Lot Like Birds was starting to sound too much like alone. To not notice the validity of this concern by this sixth track (or to not have heard it in first few songs, for that matter) would be naïve. The vibes are definitely there, especially in the vocal melodies, which are very similar to songs off alone.’s debut EP and in the overall tone of the album.
Following the interlude comes another Circa-like track, “Infinite Chances,” which is a more upbeat song in contrast to the depressing landscape preceding it. Here, Cory Lockwood’s vocal talent shines strongest, putting to rest any doubts following the news that he had taken singing lessons before the album was recorded. All in all, a thorough track that doesn’t drag. The eighth track, “No Attention for Solved Puzzles,” progresses the formula the album has been following making for a much more impressive and gripping second half. “Further Below” exudes energy with thumping prog-rock influenced bass lines provided by Matt Coate, who also does great backup vocals, whirling synths and almost mystical vocals. The only possible complaint I could make is that the song could have been a bit shorter, but it isn’t a huge deal. Next up is “Good Soil, Bad Seeds,” possibly the second most radio-friendly song on DIVISI. All in all, it’s an alt-rock anthem with a lot of pop elements that kind of feels out of place or could have been structured differently. For first-time listeners, it may be the most accessible track aside from “The Sound of Us.” Up next comes “From Moon to Son.” In my humble opinion, this is the “heaviest” track on the album and another personal favorite, containing elements of past A Lot Like Birds records: the guitars are bit more distorted, the drums are darker, and the vocals are enigmatic, which leads to a notably missing factor on this record: screams. Yes, this one of two songs to feature actual screams, the other being the title track. It’s somewhat disappointing as it’s something that would greatly benefit the entire album, but despite that little nitpick, the song is amazing. It’s cinematic, and makes could have easily ended the album on a high note, but the final song is the titular “Divisi.” If dying was the eleventh track then this song must be the afterlife. It’s sorrowful, dealing with the topic of mortality and leaving something meaningful in your absence. Bringing the album’s concept full circle, the song concludes where “Always Burning, Always Dark” left off. “Don’t we all arrive at the same place where we began? Don’t we all arrive where we began?” is repeated, burning the question into our minds. This should have been the album opener, and “From Moon to Son” the closer. Even switching “Always Burning” with this one would have worked.
All things considered, DIVISI is a good record. It’s a cinematic showcase that evokes raw emotions in response to a variety of life’s aspects, leaving the listener nearly a wreck after diving in. My main criticisms are the lack of screams, which could have added more dynamics to certain songs, and the slightly repetitive songwriting. Then again, this IS a new chapter for these guys, and regardless of how divided fans are, DIVISI and A Lot Like Birds will gain traction and respect as time goes on while those who hang onto their disappointment about the change will be left behind as the band moves towards a brighter future.
- Zack Santiago