⇒ Read also: Our feature story on the band, "Birds & Arrows sing their life and love onto the new Starmaker"
Starmaker, the full-length debut from young duo Birds & Arrows, plays like a scrapbook that chronicles the love and lives of husband and wife Pete and Andrea Connolly. Both the album art and songs are deeply personal, edging on voyeuristic at times, but offering a sort of universal truth for their intimacy. On the title track, Andrea and Pete sing in unison, identifying God as the "starmaker" who pushes a pin through black paper like on a schoolchild's art project. By casting God as the craft artist, the Connollys afford themselves the power to create their own world, one of instant nostalgia and familiarity, not unlike the best of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. Artwork of Native Americans and spaceships collides with lyrics about traveling and love. Birds & Arrows' domain is strange and beautiful, full of wide-eyed wonder.
On "Honeymoon Song," they describe a broad and encompassing world, singing, "In a place so old with a life so new, it was all." Still, Andrea picks out minute details, like stopping the car every few miles because it was smoking. The specificity paints an intimate portrait, offering an inlet into the couple's private life. Andrea's strummed guitar begins the track, which grows in layers—cello, piano and pedal steel as ornaments, then Pete's simple tribal drumming on tom-toms. Add all the sounds in the world, though, and the excitement in "Honeymoon Song" stems from the palpable connection between the couple. Pete joins Andrea on harmony vocals, helping lift the line, "It was all," into "It was always you."
The singing throughout Starmaker is fantastic. Andrea's voice is clear, full and stunning, seemingly designed for melancholic anthems and slow-burning love songs. With sand on his vocal chords, Pete delivers lyrics with a rootsy, quiet confidence that balances Andrea in an unexpectedly appealing way. He even tackles lead vocals on a few songs, including "Monkey Brother," a song about his estranged adopted brother who died last year.
While the band is essentially a guitar-drums duo, "Ripe and Ruptured" features Latin-inspired claves and ooh-la-las. Coldplay could even cover "Company Keep." The music refuses to stand still, mirroring the album's uniting motif of drives—or, more generally, movement and progression. The theme comes to fruition on "Daisy Renee," a joyous country ode to an old car. "Send her home," the Connollys call together, echoing Tom Waits and Neil Young's old-world automobile nostalgia. The '64 Oldsmobile can be imagined heading off into the glowing sunset.
Primal and passionate, expectant and hopeful, Birds & Arrows' Starmaker is a Victorian curio cabinet filled with personal moments and universal emotions.
Birds & Arrows releases Starmaker Saturday, Oct. 10, with a show at Local 506. The Never and Mt. Moriah open at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7.