Songs For The New is the second full-length release from soulful rock group Two Dark Birds, and just about everything really is new for one member of the band. Having left the hustle and bustle of New York City for mental, physical and spiritual relief, frontman Steve Koester cites his newborn baby daughter and his relocation to Pakatakan Mountain in the Catskills as the inspiration behind the new album. Koester has said that the move brought him closer to nature and gave him a sense of rebirth—themes that resonate throughout Songs For The New. The sad, dark tones of 2008’s self-titled release are downplayed and merged with a more hopeful sound that finds balance in the group’s melancholy.
Koester’s new environment shines through on opener “Closer To Water,” with a strong acoustic guitar melody blended with harmonious, lively string instruments, a pitter-pattering drum beat and Koester’s gentle, folksy vocals. Using the imagery of raindrops, oceans and waves, the lyrics mourn a good friend who was lost but with the resolve that “We move on, we move on, we move on/Like wind through the trees.” Using similarly emotive strings, “Black Blessed Night” also feels full of the freedom of a new life, describing an out-of-body flying experience over trees, sailing on the wind.
“Ill Wind” reverts to the slightly darker sounds of the band’s first album, full of deeply bluesy guitars, crashing cymbals from drummer Jason Mills and heavy piano from pianist Ben Wildenhaus, but is balanced by tracks like “Pie Eyed.” Though telling a tale of rejection, “Pie Eyed,” picks up to a more upbeat vibe, with groovy keys and blaring guitar riffs, the adventure leaving the narrator with only “a couple of black eyes” and “a sack of lies.” Reflecting on family and his new fatherhood on tracks like “Ryder Hollow” and “Song For Clementine,” Koester sounds sweet without being corny or contrived. Brightly bouncing guitar melodies, a steady beat and ascending horns in the chorus keep a well-known story of a father’s love interesting and refreshing on “Song For Clementine.”
Drawing heavily on elemental inspirations of water, wind and the nature of Pakatakan Mountain, Two Dark Birds creates a sweet, outdoor soundtrack that holds strong to the themes of rebirth and family without going overboard on sentimentality.
Two Dark Birds plays Googie’s Lounge on Tuesday, October 18 as part of the Riot Bear showcase during CMJ 2011.