The Lesser Birds of Paradise
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The Lesser Birds of Paradise

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


Those who enjoyed the lovingly arranged String of Bees, the Lesser Birds of Paradise's previous long player, will welcome with open arms Space Between, the group's latest recording. Vocalist/guitarists Tim Joyce and Mark Janka and drummer Greg Thomas have crafted another nuanced set of finely wrought and imaginatively scored songs. "My Refrain" is a lonesome, drone-filled pastoral ambler, haloed by musical saw glissandi; equally rustic is the folksy "Devil's Rope." On "A Rehearsal," understated vocals are accompained by laters of acoustic guitars and un unobstrusive horn section playing lush harmonies. In a piquant juxtaposition, "Do You Remember When (We Overthrew the Government?)" pits dark lyrics ("Catch a bullet/with your head...") against a relaxed, hazy instrumental accompainiment, complete with plaintive harmonica solo. Lest one is worried that the group operates on a relentlessly mellow frequency, Thomas lets the cymbals rip and Janka and Joyce indulge in some tasty instrumental breaks on "Always the Sound." Still, Space Between abounds with memorable ballads , including the delicate "I Envy the Photons" and an imaginatively titled open letter to a siren of the screen: "Claire Danes, If You Ever Get a Nose Job, I Swear to Jesus I'll Hang Myself." A special standout is "Take the Leaves," which boasts the album's best melody and a deft arrangement, which begins with just voice and guitar and accumulates chorale-like horn passages along the way. The album closer if a quixotic, piano-laden slowcore version of "You are My Sunshine." Space Between is an affecting recording that often speaks softly, but with beguiling results. - Signal to Noise Magazine


There's an odd tension when one finds a relatively obscure band that is on the verge of something big: you want to keep it a secret, so the band can be yours and yours alone, but you also want to share it with everyone you know, shout it from mountaintops. Well, mountaintop, meet The Lesser Birds of Paradise. Space Between is one of those albums where the appeal swings from song to song depending on your mood. The guitars veer between jangling country style riffs and shimmering accents, all kept centered by Mark Janka's understated vocals. "I Envy The Photons" is one of the best songs of the year, unafraid of its own IQ, so sparsely gorgeous it's painful. Keeping such a wonder as The Lesser Birds of Paradise a secret would be selfishness akin to hiding a great work of art in a private collection. - Spare Change Magazine


The Lesser Birds of Paradise's "You Are My Sunshine" takes the much-loved children's song and turns it on its head, smothering the classic in soothing sounds and atmospheric folk. It's unlikely source material for the Chicago band, which specializes in pastoral folk music marked by hushed drums, quiet piano, occasional saws and xylophones...the band opens up, lulling victims into a dark, hypnotic trance: The Lesser Birds of Paradise's music can be heady and sometimes overwhelming, and "You Are My Sunshine" is no exception. The song will never be the same. - National Public Radio


...this is truly the Elephant 6 album that never was.
Singer/songwriter Mark Janka is the clear focus, much as Mangum was in Neutral Milk Hotel, while multi-instrumentalist and producer Tim Joyce takes the Hart/Spillane role of embellishing the basic guitar and voice tracks with a wide variety of sonic fripperies (pump organ, ukulele, etc.) that turn Space Between into a hazy, psychedelic blur. Meanwhile, non sequitur song titles like "Claire Danes, If You Ever Get a Nose Job, I Swear to Jesus I'll Hang Myself" and "So the Bear Wipes His Ass with the Rabbit" (the punch line of every seventh-grader's favorite joke) balance Janka's relatively somber and personal lyrics. Never simply weird for its own sake, Space Between is a small psych-folk gem." - All Music Guide review


PopMatters:
Their country-soaked, folk-pop sound is complex and harmonious. Sometimes you listen to the album and all you can feel is a wave of gorgeousness roll all over you... (8 out of 10) - PopMatters review



[Mark Janka's] surrealist visions and finger-picked guitar propel... Lesser Birds' front-porch epics. Janka is a disciple of the distinctive guitar styles of John Fahey and Mississippi John Hurt, which favor five-finger plucking over use of a pick. The songs luxuriate in languid, watercolored atmospherics from Tim Joyce's slide guitar and keys, Greg Thomas' drums and saw and Ben Schulman's harmonica. Janka's bittersweet wit spins off-kilter narratives of characters whose secret powers are not quite super enough to conquer daily life. - Washington Post Express Feature


The L Magazine:
They incorporate accordions, keyboards and all sorts of wacky instruments with a standard rhythm section and some beautifully plucked acoustic guitar to produce what is arguably the best Sunday morning music you've never heard. - The L Magazine review


Pop Culture Press:
Formed in 1998 in Chicago, folk/popsters The Lesser Birds of Paradise have long traded in softly whispered vocals tuned to mellow, layered arrangements. On the heels of their acclaimed String of Bees album comes Space Between. The album starts with hushed tracks like "Do You Remember When" and "Paint Your Fingernails," conjuring tranquil soundscapes with the aid of delicate percussion and muted organs. Mark Janka's soothing vocal style and lyrics aid the uncomplicated song structures, creating a serene backdrop for the Lesser Birds' orchestrations to mature. Albeit simple, the arrangements are sharp and uncluttered, and the musicianship intricate, as high-lighted in "Always the Sound" and "The Devil's Rope." Add to that the band's creative blend of assorted instrumentation (xylophone, accordion, ukulele) and Space Between echoes genius and permeates vacuum. - Pop Culture Press review



Time Out Chicago:
The Lesser Birds of Paradise have a musical saw, and they're not afraid to use it. But even given the generally unseasonably warm weather Chicago's been having, everyone sometime needs a break, and the band's breezy, gentle Americana hits the spot like a slow swing in a hammock. - Time Out Chicago Review




Two years have passed since this local trio's previous full-length, String of Bees, and that seems just about right. Their folk-pop is so dreamy and languorous that you really need to steep in it to get the full effect--you wouldn't want them rushing at you with a new EP every five months. The new Space Between (Contraphonic) is a gorgeous album, perfect for middle-distance floating, with a sort of artfully unfocused focus in its guitar and keyboard arrangements... - Chicago Reader review


Discography

A Suitable Frame lp (Loose Thread Recordings)-- 2000
It Isn't the Fall ep (Loose Thread Recordings)-- 2002
String of Bees lp (Contraphonic)-- 2004
The Scenery ep (Tight Ship)--- 2004
Space Between lp (Contraphonic) -- 2006
Bored Love ep (Digital Only) -- 2007

streams, downloads available at www.contraphonic.com, www.itunes.com

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Since 1998, The Lesser Birds of Paradise have evolved from charming folk-pop to a more ambitious, textured craft. Over the last few years, their sound has been refined to its most organic elements, and their appeal has developed beyond the Chicago indie-rock scene.

Following the lovely A Suitable Frame and It Isn't the Fall EP (both on Loose Thread Recordings) and several national tours, 2004's String of Bees (Contraphonic Music) was met with a larger national presence, and critical acclaim. Rockpile declared, "records like this only come along a few times a year... [their] best effort to date." Back home, the Chicago Reader proclaimed String of Bees to be "so gorgeous it's almost toxic." The Lesser Birds quickly followed that with The Scenery EP (Tight Ship Records). Recorded mostly live in half a day, with very few overdubs, its resulting sparseness and openness was a nice compliment to String of Bees' layered textures and subtle studio trickery.

The Lesser Birds' subtle experiments and arrangements, which acted as flourishes on previous releases, developed into integral muscle on their latest, the mesmeric Space Between. With emphasis on every detail, Space Between opens up secret passageways of sound, where melodies aren't so much played as naturally grown, where single notes, pump organs, xylophones, muted drums, and echoing voices, layer in a warm, seductive embrace. Coupled with tapestries of American Gothic narratives, sly humor, animal characters, and Robert Creeley-cum-Charles Olson poetics, Space Between is a record of lasting impression and importance that has garnered accolades from National Public Radio to the Washington Post Express, and cemented The Lesser Birds of Paradise as one of the more original bands today.