Erin Birgy’s latest collection under her Mega Bog moniker, Life, and Another, draws inspiration in part from the work of artist David Wojnarowicz, science fiction and fantasy author Ken Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past series, and the New Mexico landscape where the album was recorded. For music geeks unfamiliar with any of the aforementioned non-musical influences, one may describe the avant-pop stylings of Life, and Another as if Cath Carroll sang over a jazz-inspired soundscape created by Laurie Anderson. While Life, and Another may have been conceived by Birgy, it was by no means birthed by her alone. The new full-length was co-produced by Big Thief’s James Krivchenia and features Zach Burba (iji), Andrew Dorset (Lake), and Matt Bachmann among others.
With a happy Tropicália rhythm and upbeat piano, bass, and acoustic guitar, “Flower” opens the record optimistically with Birgy singing in a slightly raspy voice just above a whisper lines like, “We saw you walking, past the terrible movie, we saw the movie, too.” The opener is an anomaly amongst the music on the rest of the album, however, as the sound takes a hard turn into synthy explorations with its successor, the single “Station to Station.” Life, and Another drops into a jazz trance beginning with “Weight of the Earth, on Paper”, a speedy song that at one point channels Fear of Music era Talking Heads-like chanting. The jazz continues through “Crumb Back”, “Butterfly”, and the record’s title track, all at times utilizing lively saxophone, piano, and acoustic guitar solos.
Life, and Another’s second half opens with the atmospheric “Maybe You Died”, a smooth jazz composition that embodies the most nauseating features popular with the genre during the 1980s, including synth washes, a moody saxophone and … coyote howls? The record’s second half doesn’t get much better after this, opting to wallow in the mire created by “Maybe You Died” until an attempt to pull Life, and Another out of its downward trajectory arrives with the angrily stomping instrumental “Bull of Heaven”. The album’s final fifth is somewhat saved thanks to the quirky “Obsidian Lizard”, the mid-period Echo and the Bunnymen soundalike “Before a Black Tea”, and the epic five-plus minute closer, “Ameleon.”
Mega Bog’s sixth studio album has a fairly strong first half but suffers due to a handful of clunkers on its back end. Could the record have been saved by different track sequencing? Maybe, but only somewhat. The inclusion of a generous helping of contemptible smooth jazz moments are what ultimately torpedo Life, and Another, at times recalling the vomitous, intentionally laughable lounge act Sausalito from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Still, there are some solid songs on side A. If the detritus had been trimmed considerably, Life, and Another would have been more palatable as an EP.