As someone who has been writing on music for seven long years, one of the most unique experiences for me has been watching projects like Albireon evolve over the years, most of the time building their careers in a perfect tangent from the days in which their project name was first celebrated, but once in a while, surprising listeners with something, well, a bit different to put it mildly. Anyone who has long been a fan of Albireon will immediately classify them not by the usual bombastic power of the neofolk genre that they have become known as being part of, but by something more subtle and far more sullen. Ambient music has always been every bit as much a part of their essence as neofolk has, and that very unique hybrid of music that they have created always seemed to carry with it a definitive atmosphere of overwhelming gloom — a dark, abstract aural environment that brings about emotions not unlike those conveyed by the Brothers Quay in their various masterpieces from the mid-to-late 80′s such as “Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies” and “The Comb”. Of course, Northern Italians know a thing or two about the pairing of sadness and music, an Emilian quality that can be heard throughout the history of the region’s traditional compositions.
The “a bit different” sentiments in the previous paragraph accompany this release specifically, an album that, while still containing the mentioned dark and uncomfortable atmospheres of previous Albireon works, can be seen as — and is indeed labelled as — a “dark comedy”. I can’t help but feel that David E. Williams’ specific influence on this album is what helped push Albireon into a new area of theme as it seems to have his very distinct style of comedy and sarcasm defiantly anchored as its muse and inspiration. He certainly isn’t the only influence on “Mr. Nightbird Hates Blueberries” though, as many additional recognizable names join the lyrical and instrumental cast for this release including one Lloyd James (Naevus), Die Weisse Rose, Future Whirl, and a project that Albireon has long been associated with, first through their guest appearance on “Indaco” (Cynfeirdd) and then through a wonderfully produced split in “Ähren” (Final Muzik), Sonne Hagal. That said, this certainly isn’t the atypical Albireon album as there is a lot more going on within its tracks than their own traditional style, and perhaps should, in some sense, be approached as something all-together new.
“Mr. Nightbird…” opens up to pure ethereal dark ambience with the only track that doesn’t feature a guest musician nor vocals on the album, “Sad Prelude for a Dead Mosquito” — a track title that, through its melodramatic performance on the back of what seems to be a rather absurd title, more or less sets the stage for the surreal fairytale-esque and anthropomorphic lyrics that will follow in its footsteps. From here, the trio of Lloyd James, David E. Williams, and the relatively unknown Bard Titlestad under the moniker of “Future Whirl” take over the spotlight with their respective vocal performances overtop of atmospheric guitar-laden dark folk. These tracks introduce the situation with Mr. Bluebird, whom has been betrayed by his love, the nightingale, and has found himself in a depressive drunken stupor, faltering ever-further towards death only to eventually be given life once more. All three tracks are strongly guitar and synth-based, but the title track “Mr. Nightbird Hates Blueberries” features a fantastic reverb and delay-driven bluesy guitar solo as performed by project frontman Davide Borghi that will make any Opeth fan perk up immediately in curiosity and excitement. Both James’ and Williams’ vocal performances here are more or less textbook for their style, with Williams backing his own up with layered melodic progressions. Future Whirl is the proverbial wildcard here though, as relatively unknown a figure as he is, but surprisingly he puts up a wonderful effort that goes a long way in reminding me of the crystal clear performances of Richard Leviathan of Ostara.
The next chapter of the album welcomes the listener with a much more tenebrous sound with “Portrait of a Dusty Night” — a track that borders on industrial with a calm but mad character and atmosphere behind the voice, a voice that seems to embody a personal reflection from Mr. Nightbird. This is a character who watches endlessly and obsessively while struggling with suicidal thoughts. Once past this trip into the increasingly unstable mind of the protagonist, we trade off the darkest track on the album for the most up-tempo in “The Spiders’ Corner” and welcome Lloyd James again on vocals whom will again be followed by the full trio mentioned prior, only this time with Thomas Bøjden of Die Weisse Rose at the helm for “The Horsetails”. This track features a backbone of ethereal droning guitar underneath of Bøjden’s disembodied spoken-word, ghostly whispers of “Do you remember?” and “Then you killed me, one day near the river, and let my blood flow silent, through the horsetails” populate the space between sparse glockenspiel bell taps.
Despite Sonne Hagal’s unsettling presence in their first appearance, their second contribution accounts for the most delicate melodic performance on the entire album with “Shrimpy Among the Stars (Lullaby Version), a lushly composed song with harmonious vocal layering that saves the track from the one moment where the performance on “Mr. Nightbird…” falters with a rather sloppy keyboard effort. Had it been spot on, it still feels like it would have been too distracting at the end to not affect the song in a negative way as there was simply too much melodic movement underneath what was, without it, a calm and heartfelt song. Sadly, this is the moment that prevents the album from achieving a perfect score. Otherwise, “Mr. Nightbird…” is a wonderful work of depressive ballads, mad ramblings and incongruent comedy. Beautiful, lyrically complex, and profoundly strange.
01) Sad Prelude for a Dead Mosquito
02) A Lone House under a Blooming Moon (Feat. Lloyd James)
03) Mr. Nightbird Hates Blueberries (Feat. David E. Williams)
04) Shy Spiders’ Parade (Feat. Future Whirl)
05) Portrait of a Dusty Night (Feat. Sonne Hagal)
06) The Spiders’ Corner (Feat. Lloyd James)
07) Summer of Lost Souls (Feat. David E. Williams)
08) The Horsetails (Feat. Die Weisse Rose)
09) Requiem for Shallow Birds (Feat. Future Whirl)
10) Shrimpy Among the Stars (Lullaby Version) (Feat. Sonne Hagal)
11) Mr. Nightbird’s Unpredictable Heaven (Feat. David E. Williams)
12) Shrimpy Among the Stars (Bonus Track Feat. Sonne Hagal)