The opening atonal slurring and bass line of “Stuck,” the opening track on Antibodies, seems to instantly promise an intelligent and varied pop album. The opening few seconds are the kind that really grab you; make you look up from your keyboard or wherever you may be listening to it for the first time, and pause a moment. While Antibodies doesn’t deliver on all the promises in its brief opening moments, it is totally correct in its statement that, no, you probably won’t hear anything else like it this year.
Nate Kinsella, Birthmark, is a (what some would label) post-pop artist hailing from Brooklyn with an awful lot on his mind. Antibodies is an album as strange as it is forward, utilizing strings that switch easily from strained to overpowered to underplayed. It often uses percussion not to carry, but characterize tracks. Its lyrics come fast and frequent, though Kinsella (and his accompaniment) seldom ever agrees to sustain a note more than a few seconds. While I wouldn’t say any of the lyrics on Antibodies are outright haunting, there are lines that have just stayed with me (I still find the line “I wish I didn’t have a name” coming back to me from time to time). This strange sound really does work in the album’s favor most of the time. For instance, take the track “Lighten me Up,” what I’ve grown to consider the short, strange centrepiece to the album. It’s a simple song, featuring disconnected piano chords, vocals and tuneless, somewhat aggravated strings, but it really does make the most of itself. It’s a song that, for its unpleasantness, becomes a song that so honestly portrays the weird, hurt feeling it aims for that it totally captivates as much as it alienates.
However, most of the strange hooks on Antibodies come at the beginning of songs, such as the orchestral-sounding slur mentioned earlier that kicks off the album. What you’ll find is that most of the songs on the record eventually work themselves into a groove which, while never completely consistent, don’t really very much from a set formula. As the album progresses, you’ll notice that a lot of the songs move at what could be described as a “steady” pace, adhering to the groundwork laid (but not worn) out my earlier tracks.
And, while this in and of itself doesn’t pose too much of a problem, when it’s coupled with the fact that Kinsella repeats words and phrases a bit too much (though I gather this is wholly intentional) it can at times become sluggish. For instance, the frequent revisiting of “survive” and its derivatives in a short frame in “Pacifist Manifesto” always stands out – then the downright irritating titular chimes and chants of “Please Go Away,” which wear down the ears on repeat listening. The song itself oddly switches from apathetically traditional, to oddly atonal to rather quaint, and while the song never feels like a mess, it also doesn’t really leave a distinct impression for all its garishness.
Although it does so inconsistently, when Antibodies engages the listener, it really has them. It’s an album wherein its own formula holds back its moments of true greatness, forcing its tracks to regress into a comfort zone. However, the moments when Kinsella really shines in all his odd, abrasive glory are pretty special.
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