The Bird and the Bee
The Bird and the Bee (MetroBlue)
Superficially, this buzzed-about L.A. duo could slip rather anonymously into a jazzy electro-retro niche that has produced lots of passively enjoyable modern cocktail music. There’s a cheerful soprano (Inara George), keyboard wizard (Greg Kurstin), and breezy, percolating vibe to everything that fits the mode of acts such as Bebel Gilberto or Stereolab. But the chirping has bite, too: “F-cking Boyfriend,” for instance, adds an expletive to a seemingly innocent request (and a surplus of head-bopping disco-jazz rhythms). The duo’s embrace of subtle textures and pixilated beats with sweet dollops of melody is quietly beguiling. Meanwhile, the lyrics sort out little bits of loaded emotional rhetoric and existential silliness, coming across like Burt Bacharach gone tropicalia. George’s lilt draws you in close: “Are you prepared for the atom bomb?” she sings in “Preparedness,” “Are you prepared for my aching arms?” By song’s end the synthesized overtones have shifted colors, and become as vaguely disquieting as good Radiohead.
Of course, the singer and her partner aren’t just anybody. George’s father was Little Feat frontman Lowell George, while Kurstin is a protégé of jazz pianist Jaki Byard and has worked with the likes of Beck, Bob Moog and Peaches. It’s Kurstin’s encyclopedic feel for electronic nuance, all that Kraftwerky/Esquivelian hum and flutter, that gives The Bird and the Bee its disarming sparkle. The music seems trivial at first, then grows dizzying the deeper you delve into the mix. We tried listening to “I Hate Camera” on headphones, with its blissful swirl of choral “ba ba ba’s” and synthesized harpsichord, and soon enough had a revelation: To bop is to be. What more can anyone ask of a pop record?—Steve Dollar