Time moves ever forward whether we’re prepared or not, so I suppose it’s alright to take a look back now and then as long as we avoid romanticizing it too much. I can’t fault anyone for being attracted to the seemingly simpler times and simpler songs of the early 90s. Hell, I’m writing this while wearing a Polaris shirt. But you can take an old sound and update it a bit and that’s about where we need to start with Father Werewolf’s Red Bird.
The first track “Race Car” would sound at home on any college radio station with its no frills production and its constantly repeating melody. A little boppy tune, “Race Car” seems like it’s heading somewhere but like the titular car, the song remains parked in the driveway. “Truculent Racoon” suffers much of the same fate, quickly becoming background noise with a five-dollar title. It wasn’t bad, just a little boring. I was becoming a bit concerned that the entire album would be like this; the same repetitive pattern with all parts of the trio were being given equal attention at all times. If you know who is in this band, you want each one to shine on their own stage!
But then came “Paper Thin Walls”, starting with a playful drum solo and a dirty guitar, and then met with a clear bass and Mandy Branch’s distinct voice. The way Branch sings “HAAANG” as if she is the one being placed on the wall is superb. Here the repetition serves to fold in on itself, building up to something more and staying lodged firmly in your head. My immediate reaction to the rest of this album was “I need to witness this live.” And that’s not just the pandemic quarantine talking. Certain styles of music lend themselves better to live performance and Father Werewolf falls squarely in that category. The band’s a little too melodic to call punk and a little too heavy to call pure 90s college rock. For heaven’s sake, it’s made up of folks who’ve jammed under the banners of Motherfucker and Dark Meat. Mandy Branch, Forrest Leffer and Christian Phily are all familiar Athens staples and their record Red Bird fits nicely into our town’s history of local super groups.
The back half of the album is where Father Werewolf truly shines. “Red Bird” is solid but “Hydrangea” and “Inner Pool” are the tracks to pay attention to here. The former is a heavy, fuzzed out slow burn of a song about a beautiful flower that leads into a downright nasty groove at the end. The latter has Branch calling out “FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS” into a distorted distance as the music swallows her vocals, pulsing in and out, allowing all of it to finally breathe and take up the full amount of space that the trio can.
If you’re looking for something to play at your next mid-summer socially distanced pool party, I’d give Red Bird a spin. It feels like a 90s summer throwback but without all the angst and poor production. You’ve got a solid group of songs to listen to while slowly baking in the sun on your back porch. And when the heavy stuff hits, you’ll appreciate it all the more.
You can find Father Werewolf’s Red Bird here.