Artist: Birdeatsbaby

Album: Feast of Hammers

Birdeatsbaby play outgoing piano-rock with cabaret aspects. With Amanda Palmer now a solo act, Birdeatsbaby (led by singer/pianist Mishkin Fitzgerald) are the obvious nearest successors to the Dresden Dolls for me; they also suggest Stephanie Rearick with a full band and a birdeatsbaby_feastconfident strut. Feast of Hammers has several impressive singles, smart and catchy. Love Will Bring You Nothing and Anchor have nimble tempo-shifts; elegant violin; long looping melodies; dramatic choruses; and piano playing that veers from the ambitiously melodic to the demonstrated power of a single note repeated at just the right level of firmness. Incitatus is savage, rising from sinister whisper, to domineering chorus and urgent group shouts, retreating into lulling “ooh”s only to roar back into force; the fiercest of tribal beats, the most powerful of that world-colonizing 19th-century technology the piano, the most de-inhibited of oom-pah beats, and just enough of the trickiness of progressive rock.

The closest thing to a negative I can say about Feast of Hammers — and we’ve reached the point in the countdown where I want to rank everything in the top 10, and am mad that mathematics won’t let me — is that while all the other songs are good, they show you the same tricks the singles do. Well, the Sailor’s Wife does sound like a dinner-party ballad from early last century, playing through an old Victrola. Through Ten Walls and Victoria start out prettier than the singles, the former almost classical, the latter nearly pop-jazz — but they give into temptation, and surge into heavy drums and pounding piano and gracefully keening violin solo, and eventually Fitzgerald’s singing takes on its shouter aspects. (Her singing voice is classy, expressive, and theatrical, and I like it, but it’s thin and quavery at her quietist, and it slips off-key at her loudest).

The lyrics could distinguish the songs, and if you’re really into goth-y (or Nick Cave-y) tales of relationship derangement, they will. To me, there’s a tendency for the adultery, despair, and arson of Love Will Bring You Nothing to blend in with the murderer’s declaration of love on Victoria and the admission of betrayal and “a price upon my head” in Tastes Like Sympathy, but they’re well done. Incitatus  is a standout here as well, ruthless advice inspired by the viciousness it would claim to save you from: “Swim, little fish, get away from the lobsters/ Quick, here they come, they’re relentless mobsters/ Drown, if you have to, don’t share the secret … Rich men walk through the eye of a needle/ poor men limp on a dog that is feeble/ I know a path that is quick and evil”. Anchor too: “Come home to me. I won’t be grateful but I will not leave your side… So now you’ve won, let the water fill your lungs. I’ll watch and pray, cuz I know that everybody has to die someday”.

The worst thing I can say about Feast of Hammers, really, is that I’m still fond of my wife and my former girlfriends. How is that Birdeatsbaby‘s fault? Clearly, it isn’t, and they’ve made a heckuvan album.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2012 page!