The Bird and The Bee - Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future

Tim Miller 18/02/2009

Rating: 4/5

Sometimes, the US of A churns out a surprise or two. Not making a fist of the presidential election, for instance. Similarly, you'd not think that Latin/jazz psychedelic pop duo The Bird and The Bee would be pressing Yank buttons. But their gem of a debut obviously caught the imagination of enough people, and now just two years later they release a follow up full-length, which has also been interspersed with an EP somewhere along the line.

And, it's pretty glorious. You might not be familiar with retro-looking (long coats, bobbed hair, berets) Inara George's vocals, but her wispy vocals feathered with wonderfully clever harmonies are hypnotic, enveloping with their calm purity and dainty melodies. Multi-instrumentalist and second half of TBATB, Greg Kurstin, backs George this time around with more modern touches; straight-up pop beats, dozy electronica keyboard lines and chords, and strong basslines. His respect for '60s and '70s world influences is hinted at here and there, however, but it is the 21st century which pervades without question on this second LP.

Though it features one of the weakest lyrics, Polite Dance Song is more or less a self-explanatory indicator of the updated sound, its strong backbeat giving it the air of a Timberland-produced Sugababes track, while You're a Cad is a brilliantly understated stomper, conjoining music hall pastiche with a Lily Allen bounce. The two forerunning singles, Ray Gun and Love Letter to Japan are the contrasting central characters to this album, the former being a twirling, dreamy slow jam, the latter a stylish mid-tempo dance track; think a stoned Basement Jaxx with angelic verse vocals descending from on high.

In an interview found on their website, the pair describe how the transition of their first record from studio to live brought to light how delicate a sound theirs was - albeit one that was quirky, delightful and highly interesting - and pre-empted the substantiating of their new direction for Ray Guns are Not Just the Future. That extended pop substance manifests itself in other top moments on the new LP - kaleidoscope harmonies on Diamond Dave, the uplifting chorus to Witch, the purist pop anthem Birthday - although those with a penchant for music more edgy may find the 12 songs here something of a saccharine test.

“Still I know the truth, I have a sweet tooth”, as George sings on You're a Cad, and it's all right to indulge occasionally. It might not be as rewarding a listen as their elite debut, but remains well-executed and varied, and exudes class. St. Etienne-styled dub-pop with a spoonful of electronica, the occasional throwback and delectable dance rhythms galore is a treat no one should deliberately forgo.

Released January 26th 2009