By Cole Faulkner
Philly indie/emo punk act Modern Baseball recently entered hiatus due in part to a case of writer’s block experienced by Jake Ewald. As part of his therapy he embarked on a side project, Slaughter Beach, Dog, that shifted his attention from songs about personal experience to the outward construction of a fictional town and creation of accompanying inhabitants. Ewald’s Motorcycle.jpg EP was a refreshingly vivid example of storytelling, and his follow-up full-length, Birdie, travels even deeper down the rabbit hole.
While Motorcycle.jpg by and large invoked an indie-rock approach, Birdie mellows by way of acoustic delivery and emotional intuition. Ewald channels his inner John K. Samson (The Weakerthans) in stripped down opener “Phoenix,” a song that lucidly describes an emergent relationship through affectionate descriptions of mundanities and memory that stick with the heart. Ewald’s delicate delivery unfolds in tandem with lyrics that envelops the listener in a momentary mirage: “Your mother asked for a picture, she says today is your birthday, in some strung out western stutter, making all the world her ashtray, she adjusts her aviators, with an absent shaking hand, tilts the camera 45 degree and calls out modelling commands.” Ewald’s somber tone intuitively builds an imagery and experience of that of a heavy heart.
While Slaughter Beach, Dog is vocally damp, Ewald’s instrumental full band vision picks up the pace with layers of organ keys, wispy female vocals, and upbeat tempos. Take “Pretty Okay,” which provokes an easy Smoking Popes vibe both in Ewald’s anecdote-rich narrative style and lingering acoustic pop-punk informed chorus (even just the smooth pronounced way he enunciates the word “college” brings to mind the Smoking Popes song of the same name). Similar offerings include the sing along style “Sleepwalking” and whistle inducing “Acolyte” Comparatively, the slight indie keyboard and layered self-harmonies of “Gold and Green” evoke an early Mock Orange influence. At their core, these songs are simply a pleasure to become acquainted with. They’re charming in personality and entertaining in substance – like an unassuming conversational highlight with a typically introverted friend.
“Everything new is a little bit bad and everything old turns you off” sings Ewald in the chorus of “Bad Beer.” The curious little contradiction will likely appeal to the aging, thirty-something audience that Birdie will likely sit easiest with. Not to say that aging Millennials (aka “The Organ Trail Generation) won’t point to songs like “Friend Song” and “Buttercup” as a little slow moving and clunky in the midst of such a smooth track list, but they will surely appreciate the likenesses to many bands from their college years. Even beyond that, Slaughter Beach, Dog offers plenty of reasons for fans of indie/emo punk to take some time and become acquainted with Birdie’s vibrant world.