I spent a lot of time rapturing about Gabriel Birnbaum’s Nightwater for its slice-of-life ambient/indie efforts. New Dog‘s The Last Birds to Sing is in that vein as well, as each of these twelve pieces (named “I” though “XII”) are little moods that hover around two minutes long. (The closer is 3:34; the rest are 2:38 or less, with “I” being just 80 seconds long.) These pieces float along in a more melancholy vein than Birnbaum’s work, reliant on pedal steel, keys, and synth textures. I don’t usually quote the liner notes at length, but they’re so descriptive that I feel I should: “Twelve short, sparse vignettes, each — except the closer — composed of two alternating chords, followed by two more. The former represent morning, the latter evening. Some days are light, some dark.”
Of these, the pensive “IV” and “VI” stand out. “IV” includes the found sounds of footsteps, giving the piece an organic, woodsy feel. The warm textures and cascading pedal steel add to the organic vibe, although there’s a hint of darkness around the edges of the tune as well. “VI” opens with the sound of rain and expounds on that sonic idea of the rainy day excellently. Bass guitar makes an appearance in this one, giving heft to the tune that distinguishes it from the others while remaining delicate overall. The sonic palette that New Dog uses here is more constrained than Birnbaum’s; the pieces largely live in the same sonic world, as opposed to giving multiple lenses. This makes the album a consistent listen overall, but it may be a bit more gloomy than some are looking for. By the time the very sad “IX” comes around, it’s a relief to get the relatively cheery “X,” but it’s still a quiet, contemplative, dusky affair that fits the record. For those interested in subtle, affecting, melancholy music, The Last Birds to Sing is a good place to go.