While listening to Birds are Better I thought it was easy to describe their sound. It sounded familiar. But whenever I started trying to put this into words, I completely failed. Birds are Better is a fresh project with a sound that’s nuanced and lush.
Based in Oslo, Norway, it would probably be safe to describe the project’s sound as falling into the realm of alternative folk music. With reverb-laden atmospheres, sweet, spine-tingling compositions, intricate arrangements, and heartfelt vocals. Masterminded by Stian Fjelldal, Birds are Better’s first studio album is The Island (Part One), and the group’s music has been described as a fusion between Fleet Foxes, Simon & Garfunkel, and a-ha, and those are a couple of easy bridges to build.
The immense layering, that often features vocals, can be traced back to the rich sound of Fleet Foxes, the solid melodic and harmonic base can be traced back to Simon & Garfunkel’s timeless knack for songwriting, and the music’s inherent frigidness, courtesy of dense reverb and choices in instrumentation can be traced back to a-ha’s brand of Nordic pop that they started way back in the 80s.
The songs on The Island feature healthy variation but retain a handful of consistent qualities that makes the final output a coherent listen that’s immersive and easy to get absorbed into. One of those is the distinctive vocal style of Stian Fjelldal. His heartfelt singing and particular brand of vibrato make the singing on this album one of its points of strength. Immediately relatable and enjoyable. The acoustic guitars on the album sound pristine and the reverb on top of them makes them shimmer and shine like the surface of a lake in a summery breeze. The variation mostly occurs in the compositions and structures of the songs. It is normal for Fjelldal to write a song that features no choruses or verses, relying instead on unorthodox structures which make those songs stand out, and the title song is a good example of this.
Writing songs that soothe and relax is a skill that’s easily in Fjelldal’s pocket. The Starter, Seven in The Morning, is a prime example. With its wistful energy, sweet words, and intricate melodies, the song makes a gorgeous introduction to the wonderful world of Birds are Better. Fjelldal also excels at writing songs that energize, but organically. like with the sophomore Super Highway, which uses hasty synths to heighten the senses, and a tight groove builds up the momentum that the words then utilize to create a moment of excitement early on the album.
Fjelldal also excels at creating pure folk, and it doesn’t get purer than on ‘Nothing Is Real When I’m Away From You’. The piece starts with an intricate acoustic guitar figure that then gets amped up by a drum part as the song sheds it old-school folk skin for another that’s more modern, while maintaining the melodies and harmonies of its first half, creating a beautiful hybrid. ‘Fencing You In’, a cut that arrives a little later in the album stands out with its intricate, rhythmic feel, and clicking synths and quick tempo, creating a song that’s so unlike anything else on the album that it left me reasonably flustered for a while before I started getting absorbed into the groove enough to enjoy it.
With a multitude of ideas that hardly miss, Birds are Better arrives on the scene of alt-folk with a bang that allows us to call it a promising project with a great future, and we can not wait to find out where Stian Fjelldal will take Birds are Better on the eventual second part of The Island.