The Lesser Birds of Paradise
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The Lesser Birds of Paradise


Band Alternative Folk


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The best kept secret in music


Chicago's Lesser Birds of Paradise return with their third, possibly best effort to date. The lush, pastoral sounds of String of Bees is a rolling landscape of lap steels, musical saws, and ukuleles that creates a whimsical feeling; the perfect compliment to the somber vocal stylings of singer Mark Janka. The record, like the reluctant transition from winter to spring, comes off as hopeful, slow-moving, and bittersweet. Neither enitrely happy nor sad, the songs lollygag amongst a messay range of emotions. Records like this only come along a few times a year. Buy it, don't burn it. - Rockpile

ecorded with Barry Phipps (ex-Coctails), String of Bees is so gorgeous it's almost toxic, with layers of trilling acoustic guitar and strings shimmering around Mark Janka's breathy, drony singing. The 11 very slow tracks slide into each other like the sort of laconically passing days after which you reemerge and friends ask," Hey, what's up?" and you honestly cannot think of a goddamn thing that is up. - Chicago Reader

It's the kind of music you want to paper your apartment with, etching wistful moods and expansive backdrops from floor to ceiling. Playing String of Bees on repeat is a good start, but still its songs cry out for more. It's not mere hyperbole to state that, on their sophomore effort, Lesser Birds of Paradise have captured something simply, gorgeously epic -- sunlight at 6:00 p.m. on a spring day, let's say -- and committed it to song....It's always an exhilarating experience to discover that first favorite album of the year -- to wonder whether these songs will retain their impressiveness through December. String of Bees stands a good chance of doing just that. At the very least, given its poignant wistfulness and gorgeous melodies, Lesser Birds have created the perfect soundtrack for spring's hastening sunlight. - Splendid

On the Lesser Birds’ third album, a musical saw bends eerie notes into a pretty warble, the guitars are rhythmic and bold, and accordions, dulcimers, and tape manipulations don’t sound like gimmicks or dramatic attention grabbers but like naturally occurring variations in the landscape....Like the Shins or Fruit Bats, Lesser Birds are a textural compound little concerned with experimentation for its own sake, but absolute and organic in their honesty. - Seattle Weekly

There are a string of interesting adjectives that could be affixed to the folk-pop strains of Chicago’s wonderfully named Lesser Birds of Paradise. The band’s sound has a kind of unpolished and muted beauty to it, to be sure, the kind of quiet but emotionally engaging delivery you’d expect from a pseudo-folk act of its growing regard. The songs on String of Bees, the band's latest full-length, are carefully constructed but feel like casual asides, ranging from examples of naïve charm (the smooth, poppy “Mermaid on the Blvd.”) and romantic balladry (“Where the River Meets the Sea,” the longing of “Come to the City”) to odes of somber reflection (the strings and piano accents of “Because We Are Also What We Have Lost,” the verses of “Assorted Aphrodisiacs”) and playful, guilt-free pop (the shuffle of radio-ready “Josephine”).
The things that are greatest about the 11-track CD, however, may be wholely outside and beyond the colorful words that might be chosen for and assigned to the quartet. The most magical and effecting part of the aforementioned “Because…” isn’t the soft picking of a folksy acoustic guitar or the gentle, lyrical whisper of vocalist Mark Janka (though both are obviously worth noting and applauding). The thing that sells you on the majesty of it all is a tenderly choreographed denoument for strings that closes the song. Janka’s soft refrain of “If you are weary / put your body near me” in one of the verses of “You Snooze, You Lose” clearly hits home on more than a few levels, but the details of the song that remain for me are the occasional tap of what sounds like a xylophone and the sub-vocal hum of a droning harmonica. In “When the Devil Does a Drive-By,” there are great acoustic guitar patterns and smooth vocals right out of an old Lomax field recording, but there are also these strangely inviting pockets of swelling, swirling background noise — the moan of a musical saw, perhaps, or the soft voice of a dulcimer. It’s this sort of attention to the craft that makes the record feel like more of a complete and original artistic statement than the whiny — though genuinely heartfelt — refrains of your neighborhood coffee-shop acoustic-folk troubadour.
And then there are songs like “Josephine,” which remind you why Lesser Birds of Paradise are sometimes name-dropped among bands with lengthier track records and greater renown. In the song (which appeared in more distorted form, I believe, on a split EP with Jared Grabb), the Lesser Birds prove they’re just as adept at dreamy acoustic pop as they are with country-inflected folk, crafting a tune with verses and choruses that get trapped between your ears. Critics, no doubt, will assign phrases like “sleepy dream-folk” and “lo-metabo-fi” and other such nonsense to the majority of the band’s latest Contraphonic effort, but it’s tracks like this that shake some of that off and keep the listener paying attention.
The record closes with “Back There on Foot,” a whimper of a song that acts as a sort of a closing lullaby, where Janka softly intoning the phrase “No one understands” after a record full of whispered confessions. The song, like much of what precedes it, is deceptively stripped-down to its emotional core, a track that is carefully built to sound as if it floated, light and airy and spontaneous, right onto the disc. In between references to the record’s title, the song offers soft, multi-tracked vocals, gently strummed acoustic guitars, perfectly timed lap steel moaning, and atmospheric found sounds, and the Lesser Birds still manage to make it feel soothing and structured but also natural, like a few caring words shared between old friends. Now, that’s a feat. - Delusions of Adequacy

This album is like a nap in a warm blanket...Various Americana acoustics, along with a smattering of musical saw, harmonica, and dulcimer create an atmosphere that’s... breathtakingly overdue and most certainly welcome. these tracks are simply brilliant. With many references to pop legends of the recent past, and more importantly, several memorable melodies, Lesser Birds Of Paradise come out of left field to earn my highest recommendation. - Now Wave

Blending whimsy, sweetness, jealousy, joy and textured soundscapes so rich they beg for optimized acoustics (or at the very least good headphones), String of Bees grabs you from the first bars as something altogether different and achingly excellent. -

Warm and heartfelt but smart and challenging, String of Bees rewards multiple listens, as subtle layers of manipulated sound reveal themselves from behind the acoustic foreground and lyrics take unexpected turns. It'll take just one listen, however, for you to wonder why you've never heard of Lesser Birds of Paradise before. There won't be many better albums this year. - PopMatters

(4 1/2 out of 5):
Lesser Birds of Paradise hail from Chicago and that makes perfect sense. Midwestern cities have a certain ratio of rural and country ideologies, mixed in with the elements of major cities. Lesser Birds of Paradise basically play urban folk music. It’s nearly all acoustic, accented with accordion, lap steel and dulcimer. The influence of their surroundings a hundred years of uniquely American music and the Chicago music scene are all relevant on String of Bees. String of Bees is the type of music Americans will always excel at, and with a few more releases like this Lesser Birds of Paradise could become some of our best ambassadors. - Sponic


Space Between (2006, Contraphonic)
String of Bees (2004, Contraphonic)
It Isn't the Fall (2002, Loose Thread)
A Suitable Frame (2000, Loose Thread)


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