Birthmark at Empty Bottle | Concert preview
Former Make Believe drummer battles his demons on his Polyvinyl debut.
“I get so tired of hearing my own voice,” Nate Kinsella sings on Antibodies, his third full-length as Birthmark and first on Polyvinyl. It’s a sentiment felt by everyone everywhere at some point. Elsewhere on the album, the onetime Chicagoan and recent Brooklyn transplant is wistful, doubtful, scared and stuck. Yet by the time we get to the reverb-steeped denouement, “Big Man,” he’s concluded that emotions are illusory: “Your thoughts aren’t real things / Neither are your feelings / There is no God.”
This could all be a bummer, but what elevates Antibodies and packs the real emotional wallop is Kinsella’s offbeat instrumentation and consistently surprising arrangements; it’s like reading someone’s deepest diary secrets and being most intrigued by the handwriting. But dang, what great handwriting it is. At times, mellow vocal lines are borne aloft by Steve Reich–inspired vibraphones and marimbas, and other times augmented by a percussive use of strings à la Arthur Russell—some clarinet here, a little piano there.
No two tracks sound alike, even while the lyrical tone remains vulnerable and melancholic. Kinsella has always been a gifted multi-instrumentalist, as anyone knows who saw him simultaneously manning drums and organ in Make Believe, but Antibodies finds him in peak form. The spellbinding, backward-looped strings on “Shake Hands” and spare, ethereal harmonies drifting through the aforementioned album-closer reveal a songwriter surmounting his demons.