Written by: Alex Green
It’s hard not to marvel at the literate pop elegance of Bradley Skaught of the Bye Bye Blackbirds.
For the past decade or so, Skaught has been one the most thoughtful and engaging singer/songwriters around and his band’s albums are always redolent with a delicious blend of pop and poetry.
The ‘Birds’ new long player Take Out The Poison is a crisp pop offering that’s dynamic, unreasonably melodic and loaded with the kind of musical momentum that makes every number a rushing pop thrill. Although throughout their career the Bye Bye Blackbirds have been consistently great, this is an album of such muscle and punch, it marks a leap in artistic confidence that brings to mind R.E.M.’s transition from Fables of the Reconstruction to Life’s Rich Pageant.
Yes, it’s that good.
Underpinned by a rolling percussive thunder, the opening number “Earl Grey Kisses” glides effortlessly into a vigorous jangle; the slinky rock of “Let Your Hair Fall Down” is filled with horny swagger and the album’s first single “Duet” is a deliciously rootsy and existential pairing that finds Skaught sharing parts with the song’s co-writer Lindsay Paige Garfield.
Later, “Wasted” is a delicious rave-up that comes replete with hand-claps; “Alfred Starr Hamilton” is an instant pop classic that’s sure to be a scorcher in a live setting and the reassuring falsetto of “Baby We’re Fine” is as catchy as they come.
As you can see, it’s hard to pick favorites here.
But the fact of the matter is, Skaught writes with such literary precision and his phrasing is so assured and knowing, each track sizzles with strength and grace.
Case in point? Try the darkly seductive “Your Spell Is Too Late,” which is the most blistering and passionate four minutes you’ll hear all year.
On Take Out The Poison Skaught has never been better–he’s a riveting bandleader and an engaging frontman, leading the ‘Birds with the kind of musical aplomb that puts him alongside everyone from Elvis Costello to Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion.
Skaught has always been a fabulous songwriter and the ‘Birds have always been a great band, but by topping himself each record, he’s laying down a perfect artistic template for growth and progression.
And we’re the lucky ones who get to stand back and marvel.
Stereo Embers Chats With Bradley Skaught of the Bye Bye Blackbirds:
Stereo Embers Magazine: Sonically this record feels like it’s bristling with confidence. Did you know you were on to something special with this batch of songs?
Bradley Skaught: We’re a pretty confident band, generally speaking, so I think we tend to dive in to things knowing something special can come out of it. That said, I don’t think we knew how the album was going to come together until it was nearly done. We had these songs that seemed really different from each other, many of which had never been played live, and had arrived in somewhat piecemeal fashion in the midst of a spell of writer’s block. Plus, new drummer(s) and a new engineer — I think our confidence as players and as a creative team allowed us to overcome a lot of uncertainty and allowed the album to reveal itself.
SEM: How tough was it to order the songs? I know order is a lost art these days, but it plays out like a cohesive song cycle.
BS: That’s one of my very favorite parts of the whole process! I love coming up with song orders. It’s never hard. I don’t have any specific strategies or techniques, I just go by feel. Years of making mixtapes paying off, maybe? I’ve never DJ’d, but I kind of think like one – how things are going to flow, how they’re going to play off each other. Our engineer, Scott Evans, suggested the reprise of “Earl Grey Kisses,” so that really helped give the whole thing some shape.
SEM: How is this record different from your back catalog?
BS: In a way it reminds me a bit of Houses & Homes in terms of being a really diverse group of songs, each given its own unique treatment and feel. But I guess maybe it’s just more mature than our other records? Despite the songs arriving in a less orderly fashion than the last two, it feels less tentative to me – it digs deeper and takes more chances. And the chances we took were less ideas of things we wanted to do and more like things that the songs needed – that helped make them come alive.