You know when a band describes their sound as “hairy,” you’re in for something interesting. The long-haired Atlanta-based quartet Radio Birds have released Contemporary American Slang, a solid lo-fi rock album that’s just dirty enough to warrant the “hairy” description. Three-quarters of the band used to be JK and the Lost Boys, but after adding a new drummer, a lot more hair, a new maturity, and crowd-sourcing a new name via online vote, they’ve rebranded as Radio Birds. The members have different musical backgrounds ranging from bluegrass to hardcore to folk to just about everything, which comes through on this latest release.
The Radio Birds have a pretty standard rock quartet set-up with Justin Keller providing lead vocals and guitar, Colin Dean on drums, Jaz Dixon on guitar, and Chase Lamondo on bass and vocals. Speaking of vocals, the lead vocals are raspy and rough, making for the perfect match for the lo-fi rock and country twang. There are also some great backing vocals; they bring to mind City and Colour on “Your Favorite Part.” The smooth harmonies are juxtaposed with the raspiness of the lead vocals. On “Dirty Rags,” the backing vocals and slowed tempo toward the end completely change the song, making it haunting before returning to the raucous rock song it had been previously. “The Beast” has such different vocals that singing duties must have been handed over to Lamondo; with more of an alternative feel than country on this song, the less raspy vocals fit well on this slow burning track.
Despite this definitely being a rock album, there’s a country/bluegrass sound, helped by a fiddle on “Wait for Me in the Fall.” “Your Favorite Part” has a definite twang to it; it’s so upbeat that it puts you in a great mood despite telling you that our protagonist is bleeding in jail (more on that later.) “Miss Ilene” and “Paper Moon” get so sweet and country that they almost shouldn’t fit the album, but the whole LP fits together flawlessly so that you never question it. Somehow, there’s enough twang and rock in each song to link them all together in lo-fi harmony. “Red Wine, Hard Liquor,” has this vintage ‘50s rock and roll sound on the verses. “Hold on Me” and “Chew Me Up” are big rock tracks with edge, anger, and big electric guitars, but they all fit together.
The lyrics tell stories. The best example of this is “Your Favorite Part,” which finds our protagonist in a jail cell after his lady love evaded police after their bank robbery. Remember that dirty, hairy description? It works so well with this story because they sound like any of the members could have picked up a bank robbin’ Miss Wrong in a dive bar. “Hold on Me” takes a familiar topic of a woman’s drug-like, addictive effect. On the nicer, more beneficial side of love songs, there’s “Miss Ilene.” Like “Favorite,” it’s also sung to a lady, but this one sounds like she’s got a nice future with side-by-side rocking chairs. “Chew Me Up” captures the frustration and anger of being used. There’s even a little nod to history class on “Paper Moon” when they mention trading blankets in for weapons. It’s worth paying attention to these lyrics.
Radio Birds have set themselves apart from other rock acts with the mix of bluegrass, country, and big electric guitar riffs. The mix of raspy lead vocals and smooth backing harmonies is also a nice change from the regular. They’ve hit their stride with their rebranding. Now I must find out this hairy band’s hair secrets: I am jealous of summer Colin Dean’s flowing locks.