The Latebirds - Last Of The Good Ol' Days
2011, Second Motion Records
2011, Second Motion Records
Helsinki, Finland might not be your first thought as a hotbed of Americana music, but it's got to get some consideration once you hear of The Latebirds. Formed in 2000, The Latebirds are hard to classify. Rock, folk, punk, country, gospel and R&B are all in the mix, with the band refining and smoothing the edges with each successive album. Their latest, and first released in the U.S., is Last Of The Good Ol' Days. The album is a socio-political treatise on the state of the world in 2011, sounding many of the same themes prevalent in the American counter-culture movement of the late 1960's.
The Latebirds open with "Last Of The Good Ol' Days", a gentle Americana/rock number that looks to the future with blighted hope and yearns for the opportunities that once existed. The melancholy mood of the music fits the lyrics perfectly, and vocalist Markus Nordenstreng's easy-going style implies a sort of hopeless passivity. "Among The Survivors" is a mildly catchy acoustic/electric rocker with a subtle urgency built in. It's a solid tune; a steady album track. "Time To Live" relies on a simple arrangement and chunky guitar work to create an infectious garage-pop gem. The message is simple and clear: don't sit on the sidelines, get out there and live your life. This will be a tough tune to get out of your head.
"Summer Becomes Fall" decries consumer culture, and the human tendency to chase silly things rather than be happy with what we have. The Latebirds stick with a simplistic arrangement that allows the melody to reign, but fill it in with layered instrumentation to fill out the sound in the chorus. "Time Revisited" is a slower, more pensive take on the ideas in "Time To Live". The sound here is more stark, continuing to advocate the need to live, but also yearning for a simpler time. Hope hasn't faded here, but it's certainly struggling for purchase. The Latebirds take on the press and big government in "Fearless" decrying the attempt by politicians and corporations to control the information we receive as a populace. The song advocates using your brain to parse out what you hear and decide for yourself what is true. The chorus is brilliant: "Don't believe what gets reported. The truth has been distorted."; repeated in a hooky chorus that will get trapped in your noggin and bounce around for hours.
"Like Father Like Son" is a conciliatory number that looks back on the good memories of youth and put to rest the struggles of growing up and separating that rock the foundations of father-son relationships. Inherent in the message is the realization that the son walks in the father's footsteps, and an acknowledgement that both have grown. The quietly lush arrangement wraps around this tune like a blanket, making the subtle message all the more powerful in the process. The Latebirds take a whimsical turn on "Kickin' Me", a light-hearted and repetitive garage rocker that's as catchy as it is inane. You may find yourself decrying the song as vaguely annoying while tapping your toes to the beat. The Latebirds slowly fade over the final four songs, culminating in the bland "Light At The End Of The Tunnel".
Even taking into account the rather ignominious final third of Last Of The Good Ol' Days, The Latebirds make a distinctive impression with their U.S. debut. Producer Jim Scott (Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Wilco, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dixie Chicks) helps The Latebirds make the most of their sound with a mostly live, in-studio recording that keeps the band's delicious rough edges firmly in the forefront. Appearances by Nels Cline (Wilco), Minnie Driver and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) are add intrigue to the mix, and Last Of The Good Ol' Days should find The Latebirds receiving a very warm reception in the Western Hemisphere.
Rating: 3.5 Stars (Out of 5)
Learn more about The Latebirds at www.latebirds.com or www.myspace.com/thelatebirds. Last Of The Good Ol' Days is available from Amazon.com as a CD or a Download.