Jake Ewald’s solo project Slaughter Beach, Dog was borne of the Modern Baseball frontman’s desire to cure his writer’s block. Debut ‘Birdie’ is a creative intellectual exercise in semi-acoustic bittersweetness.
But an intellectual exercise isn’t automatically successful purely by virtue of being one, and so unfortunately calling ‘Birdie’ a creative exercise in what it’s aiming to achieve doesn’t change the fact that it’s far more miss than hit. Most of the songs have likeable elements - the main guitar parts in opener ‘Phoenix, Buttercup’ and lead single ‘Fish Fry’ are perfectly pretty with nice enough lyrical imagery, but unfortunately not original enough to make up for the nonexistence of any substance behind the images, and the use of imagery as the main point of the lyrics makes them sound more than a little pretentious.
And maybe they’d be more likeable if they appeared on an album where they weren’t the high points. But a nice riff here and an interesting couplet there doesn’t amount to enough to save the album from the unbearably twee music and trite lyrics of the rest of the record, notably on tracks like ‘Gold And Green’ and ‘Shapes I Know’, nor the gratingly overdone feelgoodery on ‘Pretty Okay’. The admittedly-quite-good chorus riff of ‘Sleepwalking’ similarly doesn’t salvage the whole song, nor do the actually-quite-relatable chorus lyrics of ‘Bad Beer’ - “Everything new is a little bit bad / And everything old turns you off” - manage to distract from the fairly vacuous rest of it. And the opening riff of closer ‘Acolyte’ sounds lifted almost entirely, if probably accidentally, from Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’.
And without any real substance to the lyrics, these soft, earnest, mild guitar songs come across like their author has grossly overestimated their depth. The album as a whole sounds like fourteen-year-old boyfriend music. The kind of music where the ending of the imagined obligation to pretend it’s deep constitutes the main upside of one’s first breakup. A frustratingly disappointing album from a writer we’ve all heard do so much better.