Jacob Ewald is a machine. Birdie, his second album under the Slaughter Beach, Dog moniker, comes just over a year since SBD’s debut Welcome, and only months after this summer’s Motorcycle.jpg EP— not to mention just a few weeks since the last shows (for the foreseeable future, at least) of emo/pop punk darlings Modern Baseball, whom he co-fronted with Brendan Lukens. While Welcome stuck to the emo punk/indie rock leanings that MoBo dealt in spades, Birdie settles in amongst a more mellow sound; there’s more acoustic picking than rockin’ power chords (and check out the pedal steel on “Buttercup”!), and Ewald’s vocals land somewhere between Jeff Magnum and a more accessible Conor Oberst.
Birdie offers us another look into the neurotic world Ewald began building on Welcome. The simplified musical approach allows for Ewald’s storytelling to shine, weaving suburban tales of slackers and daydreamers who wait in Goodwill parking lots and drink crappy beer. Opener “Phoenix” reintroduces us to the young couple from Philly featured on Welcome, while “Pretty Okay” brings us new characters in new places. The songwriting is detail oriented; sad, but not bluntly so. Ewald doesn’t hit you over the head with how depressing his characters’ lives are, and they are never overly pessimistic: see closer “Acolyte,” in which the narrator proposes to reoccuring SBD character Annie, and things look like maybe they’re actually going to be okay.
Sonically, Birdie takes the emo-tinged indie rock of its predecessors and tones it down, adopting a more pronounced folk and alt-country influence, not unlike crossover scene favorites Pinegrove. “Gold and Green” is an upbeat acoustic indie rock song with a steel guitar lead, and “Pretty Okay” follows suit, though with a more electric arrangement that recalls both early SBD material and Modern Baseball. “Shapes I Know” features prominent organ, and “Buttercup” is a gentle ballad with lightly plucked acoustic guitar and tender brushwork on the drums. The farthest cry on the album from Ewald’s pop punk background is “Friend Song,” based around what sounds like a chord organ and sparse background percussion.
Slaughter Beach, Dog may have started as a side project, but Birdie proves that it is more than capable of standing on its own. Through Ewald’s intricate storytelling and a blending of genres both old and contemporary, Birdie stands as a testament to Ewald’s ability as a songwriter and musician and makes for a relaxing, but engaging, listen,