Melodic multi-genre band Project Blackbird have released their poignant sophomore record If This Is The End, which is the perfect soundtrack for rainy days in lockdown. You’ll hear Ming Nagel on vocals, Jon Read on flugelhorn, trumpet, keyboards and backing vocals, Jamie Varley on bass guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, and Alan Roberts on guitars. Without further ado, we’ll take you on a guided tour of the album.
Opening 13-song record is title-track ‘If This Is The End’, a cosmic synth-rock trip through introspection reminiscent of Karen O and Danger Mouse’s album Lux Prima. This soft-edged start is so welcoming, especially when the percussion kicks in around the 1:30 minute mark and as the song progresses you’ll find yourself reiterating the refrain “I hear your heart begin, / Your heart begin to sing.”
Immediately, we’re thrown into a point of contrast with the experimental ‘Baby Giant’. As the band so aptly put it, this song is “an unsettling, spoken/sung soundscape inspired by Leonora Carrington’s surrealist painting of the same name.” Here we can’t help but think of She Drew The Gun’s ‘Revolution Of Mind’, although these cerebral statements have taken a trip down to Brighton pier for some beach-rock vibes. Surely, this gives the listener a hint of the sonic rollercoaster that they’re about to embark on.
The third track ‘Murmuration’ is an easy favourite. An easy-going style connects with the listener immediately who will no doubt begin swaying to the reassuring melodies. We especially love the interjection of flugelhorn while Nagel sweetly sings “you’re still here”. A touch of Sade for these dark times.
‘Laissons Cela Entre Nous’ is a real surprise on the album. Spooky, reggae-influenced beats echo mechanically throughout this half-French, half-English fanfare. We really haven’t heard anything like this before; it’s utterly spellbinding. Hopping off the back of that one and into the fifth song ‘The Handle Of The Spade’ for yet another change of pace. The lullaby-esque melodies, plaintive guitars and pastoral imagery fail to conceal the morbid message within this single.
If by this point you expected Project Blackbird to settle into a pattern, then you’re going to be disappointed, and thank goodness for that! ‘Shake These Trees’ is another stand-out moment on the record. Inspired by the great Marvin Gaye and ongoing racial injustice. Disco rhythms set an uncanny scene for images of police brutality that have become all too common place in today’s society. For this monumental statement, the band have invited ska icon Lynval Golding from The Specials who puts so much meaning into that inescapable line “I can’t breathe”.
Next up is ‘Indecision’, a down-beat lament to middle-aged angst, with a guest rap verse to convey that mid-life troubles aren’t to be confined to guitar music. Paired with this is ‘The Archivist’, a warm, reverbed recording that gives a sense of space through echoed guitar; it’s a though we’re hearing the soul of that instrument, joined by an equally soulful flugelhorn.
Returning to the speak-sing style and with a ladelful of creeping bass and haunted keys, we have the haiku titled ‘I Name My Mind And Throw It Treats, Hoping It Will Become Tractable’. As the band tell us, it’s a “commentary on the mental health system, spiralling into a psychedelic bad dream courtesy of Jon’s jazzy trumpet and a guest synthesizer solo from Lee Spreadbury.”
As we enter the twilight zone of the album, Project Blackbird delivers yet another crucial message of awareness in ‘Ava My Love’. Stretching over nearly six minutes, it’s an hypnotic and gentle love song to a failing mind of someone beset with Alzheimer’s. It’s beautiful and melancholic.
Okay, it’s time for a history lesson. ‘Speed Of Sound’ is a song dedicated to and inspired by Joseph Kittinger‘s record-breaking sky dive in 1960 in which he ascended and then descended over 100,000 feet above the earth. This remarkable feat of human ingenuity is brought life through this serene, spacey and jazzy single.
From the past to the present, ‘Letter No. 5’ is the penultimate track on this mammoth album. It’s a parse spoken word narrative over a darkly euphoric trumpet and softly psychedelic guitar that takes its place as a soundtrack to the summer of 2020. The words are direct and are instantly recognisable to us all as lockdown despair.
And we’re here, the closing item of If This Is The End, which is suitably a tender farewell. Utilizing the warmth of lofi guitars and waltzing drums, ‘Let Love’ conveys the emotional fragility in the wake of loss. It’s a reminder that through all of it, love is what we should focus our intentions on. We couldn’t think of a better way through end this abundant 13-track record.
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