Not so much a band as a project for multi-talented writer/musician/producer David Burns, Longbeard’s debut EP by California band pulls together various influences.  Augmented by Shane Bordeau on bass and saxophones, Burns’s compositions feature a whole bunch of electronic elements, but Longbeard is not really an electronic outit, since such sounds are often blended with a cinematic indie-pop feel.

Due to a very commercial edge, ‘On Our Way’ provides a strong opening number (barring the short intro piece).  The music itself has a very multi-layered feel and thanks to great production it’s easy to hear the separation between each of the elements. The guitars jangle pleasantly and the bass and drums have a strong presence which never dominates.  The best feature here is the vocal, which is high and breathy in the lead role, while processed and treated in various looped backing parts.  It may be the best feature, but it’s not especially original; you’ll have heard various other bands tinker with similar musical soundscapes throughout the late 00’s.  For an easy comparison, it’s not unlike Team Me’s more restrained offerings.  It might be fair to say that since Team Me raised the bar with regard to vocal/choir-led indie pop, it’s not as good.  However, for what it offers, it’s still very enjoyable.  The vocal arrangements are also dominant throughout the title cut, where Longbeard tinker with Arcade Fire style wanderings.  Placing the vocal against backwards electronic loops helps round out the overall sound, but in terms of actual music, this isn’t as well-rounded as ‘On Our Way’, despite a few strong moments.

‘Now We Are’ finds a space within a very summery groove.  Programmed drums lead the way, and over the course of five minutes, the collection of ringing guitars, warm bass, heavily filtered vocals and synths carry the listener far away.  Imagine parts of The Avalanches’ ‘Since I Met You’ reworked and smoothed out by Royksopp and you’ll start to get the picture.  It builds slowly and gets a little busier as it moves along, but never becomes too intrusive or particularly tiresome.  Towards the end, rhythm guitars flesh out the sound and stay the course until the inevitable fade out.  With regard to electronic based music that’s more active than mere ambient noise but enjoyable in most surroundings, this is a great example of how to get it right.  In contrast, ‘And Now I Know’ eschews electronic leanings in favour of guitar based indie-rock.  The rhythm guitars are relentless throughout, while lead guitars provide not always tune-based squeals and vibrato.  As with ‘On Our Way’ all vocals are multi-tracked and over processed – often repeating the one line “I’ve seen it all and now I know”, sometimes forward, sometimes backwards.  Also – again like ‘On Our Way’ – more than slight comparisons with Arcade Fire are evident.

Recorded on a reasonable budget and by a man who clearly knows his way around a studio ‘The Tide’ sounds great for a DIY release. Comparing ‘And Now I Know’ with ‘Now We Are’, it could be the work of two different bands; which side of Longbeard’s work  you’ll prefer is purely down to personal taste.  Due to a lack of originality, Longbeard’s work is good rather than great, but each of the four main tracks from ‘The Tide’ has something to offer the potential listener.  The EP is worth investigating even if only for ‘Now We Are’.

You can download the EP on a “pay what you want” basis from the widget below.

September 2011