Review Revue: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic – Beat of the Mesozoic

Writing these pieces often causes me to reflect on how lucky I am to have grown up in a town with multiple college radio stations playing obscure, often difficult, music. It didn’t hurt that it was also a town that produced brilliant bands such as Mission of Burma, Morphine, and today’s subject, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Originally founded as a side project by two members of Mission of Burma, Roger Miller and Martin Swope, their lineup has shifted quite a bit over the decades; I believe this EP, Beat of the Mesozoic, was the last to include both Miller and Swope.

Of course most KEXP listeners will be able to shout along gleefully to Mission of Burma’s “Academy Fight Song” or “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” but Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, trafficking as they did in strange, quiet, instrumental music, never quite made the same impression on a national level. Thanks to radio stations like WZBC and WHRB, though, they were just one more great band I grew up with. They might not have become indie classics on the level of MoB, but it’s nice to see they were getting some love all the way across the country at KCMU.

Of course not everyone loved this album – but being a college station, the main complaint seemed to be that it wasn’t experimental enough. Ah well, you can’t please everyone – especially in college radio.

“Oh my god! This is so beautiful. I refuse to describe it, YOU listen to it. . . . 2 ex-Mission of Burma members, Roger Miller + Martin Swope.”

“This is 100% creative and captivating. I discover new things with each listen. This is true genius.”

“Boy howdy.”

“It’s nice to hear music from someone who’s trying.”

“These guys have been likened to good old Steve Reich. That’s the limit for me. Enough I say – you can take back your ‘Boy howdy,’ if you want.”

“Can’t you form your own opinions?”

“Yes, Grey, I can form my own opinion, and have. This, I will concede, is not a bad album – just very standard. I’m just begging people to keep it in perspective. These guys have nothing musical to say that Rip, Rig and Panic or Residents haven’t already covered.” [OK, if I could nominate one sentence for Snooty DJ Comment of the 20th Century, that last one would have to be it. Genius!]

“But is it necessary?”

“This record bites the proverbial big one.” [This was written by the same negative commenter, but then crossed out – I’m not sure by whom.]

“For what reasons, Peter? Opinion is one thing, criticism is another. I find this rather refreshing. We have listeners who enjoy this stuff. Don’t let personal bias keep this off a turntable.”

“I find this much nicer than the two other records of theirs I’ve heard . . . and I liked the two others.”

“And to answer your question, the bass lines are conjunct, sturdy, and boring. Chord progression is standard – doesn’t go anywhere. They always use roots – no doubling of anything other than that which will be easy and congenial which is not necessarily bad, it’s just that I had to call somebody on it. These guys aren’t half as alternative as they’d like to think [ooh, that’s a runner-up!] – and yes, this is my opinion – when have I ever passed it off as more?”

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