When you’re on a first-name basis with the international hipster scene, it doesn’t seem to matter what you’re up to artistically, because people will buy it. In the case of Keren Ann, the Parisian songstress who graced lower Manhattan with her presence for her fourth solo effort (Nolita, released in December 2004), a side project can be little more than a fun romp in the studio with an equally beautiful friend. In the case of Lady and Bird, released in February, that friend is Bardi Johannsson, the sensitive male voice of Iceland’s rock group Bang Gang.
Together, Keren Ann and Bardi are Lady and Bird, and they have assembled on their eponymous debut what might be called a concept album — about two children inhabiting the bodies of grown-ups” — if it were pieced together more tightly. Still, Bardi’s sweet tenor blends well with the husky sound of Keren Ann’s café-society vocals, and when they dispense with harmonizing and sing in unison, it’s difficult to tell them apart. Their finest moments are the two covers. “Stephanie Says,” doesn’t stray far from Lou Reed’s original, and so retains its depth. The second is a surprising rendition of “Suicide Is Painless,” the theme from the movie M*A*S*H*.
On the thirty-eight-minute Lady and Bird, Keren Ann and Bardi have presented a series of simple songs strung together by a few interludes that abuse the effects of pitch shifting and reverb to create youthful voices. The result? Ten tracks that feel like postcards from the fun places these two musicians visited while leaving their audience behind. They’ve scribbled a few short lines to describe their briefest thoughts and rely on spare musical imagery to tell the rest. But all the notes say the same thing. A bit too much experimentation with instrumentation and not enough variation in melody creates the effect of one long song.