One element that is common to many of my favorite rock records is the inclusion of what I like to call an Epic Anthem track. Since I’ve just invented the aforementioned term for the purposes of this review, allow me to define it. An Epic Anthem track:
- is considerably longer in duration than other tracks on the album
- tends to start slowly/quietly, before gradually building to a rousing and spirited conclusion
- may include one or more instrumental solos (but does NOT degenerate into jam band noodling)
- has nothing to do with Epic / Anthem Trance music, which — according to Google — actually exists.
Examples of the Epic Anthem include Afghan Whigs’ "Faded", Teenage Fanclub’s "Alcoholiday" and King’s X’s "Faith Hope Love" (yes, all 9 minutes and 23 seconds of it).
So, what’s all this got to do with Catherine Avenue, the new album by Biirdie? Well, as it turns out, Catherine Avenue is practically nothing BUT Epic Anthems.
Biirdie is two boys and a girl, southern folk who’ve somehow ended up in Los Angeles. The group has an non-ironically retro sound, trading in various flavors of southern rock and (what the group describes as) West Coast Country. The band layers pianos and gently fuzzed guitars with subtle synth pads and lilting boy/girl harmonies.
Perhaps the best word to describe these songs is "substantial". Excluding a brief instrumental interlude that concludes the disc, the album’s tracks average roughly 4 minutes in length. These begin in one place, end in another — and they’re permitted to take the scenic route getting there, as on "LA is Mars" and the album’s title track, "Catherine Avenue". But even shorter tracks, such as "Him" and the gorgeous waltz "Life in a Box" feel as if they’ve been constructed to bear more weight than their brevity requires.
I figure the Platonic Ideal of a rock and roll record would contain one Epic Anthem, as defined above. No more, no less. Of course, nobody has yet created theoretically perfect album. Until someone does, Biirdie’s Catherine Avenue remains an impressive collection of songs, performed with subtlety and imagination. We could do a lot worse.