It’s tempting to compare Illinois-based duo Tweak Bird with other famous two-pieces such as The White Stripes. Like them, they are distinctly retro, but rather than harking back to post-war blues they hark back to Led Zeppelin-era rock. Perhaps a better comparison is with the bass-and-drums duo Lightning Bolt, who also aim for a chunky, wall-of-sound effect that belies their limited personnel.
Being a duo imposes some creative restrictions. Both members have to make a lot of noise to compensate for the lack of a bassist or rhythm guitar player. Tweak Bird are conscious of this and do a great job pumping the music out loud, with a pleasingly unfussy approach. Drummer Ashton Bird is from the ‘hit them as hard as you can’ school and produces a satisfying thump throughout the record. His brother Caleb plays a baritone guitar, a comparatively unusual instrument in between a normal guitar and a bass. He uses it to produce a consistent chunky, distorted tone that’s fat and warm but never too abrasive.
Tweak Bird have picked up a label comparing them with Black Sabbath, but this most likely has more to do with the quality of the brothers’ voices than with their musicianship. Their high-pitched sounds are indeed reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne‘s, but the band lacks the darkness of Sabbath. Put simply, it’s too pop – too warm and fuzzy – to be metal.
That needn’t be a bad thing of course, although Tweak Bird suffer the complications of spanning two genres. Should they play alongside other heavy guitar bands or beside pop-inspired acts? The lyrics on tracks such as Sky Ride suggest the latter. Here the band sound like a kind of stripped-down version of the Beach Boys played through a heavy fuzz pedal. The similarity extends because the Beach Boys, along with many surf bands of their era, often used the baritone guitar on their arrangements. Tweak Bird are happy to be classed as pop, and say the album was heavily influenced by the songwriting of Marc Bolan from T Rex.
However, on tracks such as The Future or Lights In Lines, the powerful riffs overtake the pop elements and create a raucous, heavyweight crunch that’s a long way from Brian Wilson‘s pretty melodies. Here the distortion just sounds too raw and unpolished to cut it as a pop act. There is still a cheerful element though. “We’re happy and we’re playing heavy music… it doesn’t seem like people are doing that very much,” explains Ashton.
The additional instruments, such as synths and reversed drum loops, are for the most part harmonious additions and feel like the two are having genuine fun. There are some exceptions – the ill-advised saxophone on A Sun/Ahh Ahh feels a little clumsy. A later flute solo on Flyin’ High works better, but the saxophone’s reappearance on album closer Distant Airways is again disappointing.
This is Tweak Bird’s first album, following their Reservations EP in 2008. There’s a pleasant warmth and nostalgia to it. Like all retro music it can feel a little tired at times. It’s not that Tweak Bird haven’t experimented, it’s more that the mood of the album harks back to an era that we’ve heard already. On the other hand, the music is tender and good hearted. The pleasingly short songs clearly don’t take themselves too seriously and the music is uplifting, if lacking in depth. Listening to heavy rock acts is often compared to taking a punch in the face, but Tweak Bird feel more like a warm bear hug.