In 2014 Les Big Byrd released their debut album, They Worshipped Cats. It was a strong debut from a band comprised of members frustrated by their output in other, better-known outfits. A co-founder of Teddybears, Jocke Åhlund had also played in Caesers, and in the duo Smile. Frans Johansson had contributed energy, and bass guitar to the bands, Fireside, and The Soundtrack of our lives. That debut was a good blend of rage, romance, psychedelia, and disarming humor. Checking out the album cover for They Worshipped Cats will give a whole bunch of information. A galactic-scale Jesus, arms outstretched, is zapping a flying saucer with laser-beams – which, of course, come directly from his eyes. So, yeah – rage, romance, psychedelia, and disarming humor. But now we’re in the now, and Les Big Byrd has returned with an album that retains those qualities. Iran Iraq Ikea is collection that develops the approach employed on the debut, but it refines the band’s vision into something sharper.
Apparently, Les Big Byrd encountered a set of hurdles during the production of Iran Iraq IKEA. No secret is made of the fractious relationship that developed with producer Pete Kember, who had been invited onboard to aid in the early stages of the recording process. The album was put on hold, and so creative process was interrupted. It’s perhaps because of this sustained pause that the energy that was dammed arrives with such urgency in the later sessions.
The psychedelic flavors that flesh out the body of Iran Iraq IKEA offer up an idea that experimentation, and a pushing against the limit, is key to the drive of Åhlund and Johansson. There’s much here that sounds forward thinking, as if the band are undoing the expectations placed on them by the established tones of their debut. But wait. Experimentation here doesn’t mean that process is forced, or that constraints are removed entirely. Les Big Byrd avoids the self-conscious extravagance of digging too deep into the droned sounds that they explore. This album is punctuated with moments of pure pop brilliance. Production values favor cleanliness, and there’s a subdued shine that accents the sequence. Challenges come not from wondering how best to access the atmosphere, but how best to dance through it.
‘Pink Freud’, is brings a raspier element of instrumentation. There oddball acoustic cut echoes with the sensibility of The Beta Band’s Three EPs. Fret-buzz of strings brings a pleasing bed for other dressings. A driven tempo, some unusual bleeps, and swirls of electronica pass like vapors. There are other moments too, which continue this looseness of vibe – but it’s here, and the sound of the cello that’s introduced that we learn of the organic matters that inform the rest of the album. Nothing moves faster than fingers can move.
‘I Fucked Up I Was A Child’ pours forward with what could be a drive-time radio track. Part confessional, part defiant, the lyrical concern here is of the damage we can do, “Burning through like a forest fire”. The motif of natural disaster also shows something of the scale of things. The uncontrollable urge of our inner landscape – the stuff that compels the behaviors of a less-than-fully realized soul. The grandiose scale of the track, perhaps the most stadium-rock sounding moment of the album, also offers the entry point for listeners who like their tunes a little more traditional.
Considering the contrasted stylings of Iran Iraq IKEA, each track is laid like a sediment from a certain era in the songwriters’ psychological development. Moods, memories, and ideas are placed on each preceding track. Dynamic comes, not only through the alternating currents of pop-experimentation-rock-drone-psychedlia, but also through the increasing atmospheric pressure which is built and released.
An achievement of Iran Iraq IKEA, is the separation of the band from their previous efforts. This material is, of course, part of a continuous whole, but it does not rely upon the past. Les Big Byrd appear disinterested in courting familiarity. They respond to new pressures by intentionally disrupting their known palette. What they produce is fresh air, and an album of significant beauty.
HURRY – BUY – LES BIG BYRD MUSIC
PHOTOGRAPH BY KRAZY KRILLE