Bel Canto

Birds of Passage

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Beginning the band's second album with something that almost exactly resembled Depeche Mode in 1986 may or may not have been intentional, but when Drecker's vocals slid alongside the music with a quietly desperate lyric, "Intravenous" became much more distinctly Bel Canto. Here, the band's music is a touch -- just a touch -- more upfront, with Drecker's vocals a little more to the fore, if not exactly in one's face. Whether it's due to their increasing confidence in performing or just a decision on the part of the band, the effect has helped Bel Canto become an even more distinct unit. Ironically enough, there are actually many more performers on this record, with six guest musicians fleshing out the sound in a variety of ways, from strings and percussion to "stardust," as co-producer Gilles Martin is amusingly credited with. There are still times on Birds where other bands are called to mind quite strongly, to a higher degree than on White-Out. "The Glassmaker," while energetic and great to listen to, is as close as one can get to the Cocteau Twins, especially with Drecker's wordless singing. All it takes is the next song, "A Shoulder to the Wheel," with its cool synth backing and slightly strident but still lovely main melody, to stay the course, with Drecker's vocals steering their own lovely direction. Johansen takes a vocal turn with Drecker on "Time Without End," which is understated but quite fine, with a striking synth break. Otherwise, he and Jenssen concentrate strictly on the music, sometimes a bit softer at points than on White-Out but often capturing the blend of cool beauty and drama once again, and at points foreshadowing the astonishing later of work of In the Nursery. The group's eclectic roots surface in intriguing ways, as they do on "Oyster," whcih subtly quotes Gary Numan's "Cars," but then transforms into a more openly passionate, orchestrated number.

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