I’ll be honest, I had heard a lot about Birds of Tokyo, for years. I have a friend on Twitter who is constantly raving on about them. My boyfriend’s friend is apparently obsessed with them. I have no idea how long they’ve been around. I have no idea where they’re really actually from. I don’t actually know how many releases they’ve had. I have not listened to a single song of theirs, at all. At least, not in entirety. Their song Lanterns had been on some advertisement on television for that show Revenge, to the point where I hated it, because the chorus was just slapped dubiously into a bunch of dramatic scenes, playing over and over.
One of my favourite bands, Regular John, toured with the band last month. I would have gone to a concert, but just to see Regular John. I had a chance to see Birds of Tokyo at Homebake last year, but I somehow missed their set?
This is the moment where I put aside everything I ever pretended to know about the band, put March Fires in a playlist, and press play. I guess this could be seen as the most unbiased review I’ve written so far.
As the first track Liquid Arms plays, I realise that I haven’t heard this kind of rock music in so long. The textures of the music, the layers of sound and the kind of vocals that urge a greater audience’s input — are all present in this track. When I hear This Fire, I’m hearing what is a great rock anthem. This isn’t what I’d call a concept album, but already I can hear the elements in Birds of Tokyo’s music that have pulled this album together, and the lyrical themes that perhaps resulted in their album being titled March Fires.
The third track, When The Night Falls Quiet, begins by sounding like Wishlist by Pearl Jam. It’s a lovely melody that echoes into a thicker, vocally compelling chorus. This driven kind of sound is what you get from bands like Coldplay, and every band who has ever said they are influenced by Coldplay. When The Night Falls Quiet is a typical example of a rock song that has the crowd waving their arms in the air, all singing along.
Motionless is short instrumental piece that takes from the fuzzy ending of When The Night Falls Quiet, tying in perfectly to the beginning of the next track. I find it hard not to cringe as the first notes of Lanterns plays, and I remember the way the advertisement on television butchered it. The verses come to me as lyrically nostalgic, but hauntingly beautiful. This strange feeling disappears as the chorus chimes in, a choir of voices supported by a chiming melody. However, the second verse brings in that vocal power again, that was present in the first three tracks. The choral accompaniment is important not just in supporting the vocals, but in driving the guitar and percussion into a louder bridge, before dissipating to a quiet close.
It is in The Others where I feel less amazed with the sound, less surprised — and feel that this is what would be the comfortable point of the album, where a long introduction has settled the listener. It’s a make or break point, really, the middle of an album. The Others is a great song, but it doesn’t stand out to me as being as driven as the other tracks I’ve heard, however, this picks up with an instrumental introduction to the next song, White Leaves.
Longer tracks don’t really sit with me, and I probably shouldn’t have peeked at the duration of this track, but I already want to skip to the next track, but this is 7:49. I begin to question myself as to whether “just a rock song” can hold my attention for that long. Birds of Tokyo seems to be taking it easy in this track, doesn’t seem like they make use of a lot of guitar solos or keyboard melodies in their bridges. Of course, they’re not the kind of band that makes use of improvisation much, and from the sounds of it, are very much a standard, structured rock band. However, I feel they need more than just layers of sound and this reverberating fuzz to hold in such a long track. More instruments, a little improvisation, and not sticking to the same structure of verse-chorus-verse. The vocals are lacking in power — they don’t have that energy that I could really feel in the earlier tracks, and as the track gets heavier and louder, I am already sensing that it’s one of those tracks that will hit a peak, and suddenly drop to only a couple of layers of sound, and fade out.
I’m not wrong. All the guitars, the percussion, and eventually the vocals, leave, and we’re left with a repetitive keyboard melody, fading out. The predictability of the track left me simply waiting for it to end.
I’m a little disappointed that Blume is just another instrumental. The sounds reminiscent of nature lead quiescently into Boy, a track where we feel the emotional vocals that we heard in the verses of Lanterns. Birds of Tokyo are exceptional at maintaining the emotional strength in their vocals, building up well into very powerful hooks, and Boy is no exception. The keyboard and melodies in this song are very important in pulling the song to its end, which fades out much the way White Leaves did.
Sirin starts with a murky, deeper bass sound. It’s repetitive to its middle point, where it seems to transition into a different key. This is the kind of change we expected in White Leaves. While it simply leads back into its repetitive chorus in Sirin, the brief pause allowed the band to build up into the upcoming bridge, which also contains some of the crisp and more melodic guitar that we’ve been expecting.
The last track on the album is Hounds, and it bears emotional lyrics similar to those in Boy. I find that it hits that comfortable moment yet again, with its bittersweet melodies and softer percussion, and as it ends, I find it almost upsetting that the album has finished.
My thoughts and feelings about March Fires now feel like ones that I want to quietly share, and I guess it’s a good thing I’ve written a review. It will be hard to walk away from this album without wanting to give it a second listen. Whether you love this kind of music or prefer others, there’s no doubt it’s the kind of music you want playing, whether you sing along or have it in the background, whether you play it soft or loud, through headphones or speakers. While very few of the songs stood out from the rest of the album, March Fires is still an album that comes together lyrically and musically as a whole.
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