This is technically a 2007 record, but since the duo has spent much of 2008 promoting it, and since I just spent a lovely evening hanging out with Lindsay and Cliff, who are Birdlips, I’m going to give this a write-up.
Cliff Usher has a voice that’s like red clay. It’s deep and solid, but moist and malleable. His delivery gives Cardboard Wings a lot of umph right off the bat, but it’s the orchestration that flanks his vocal chords that really brings this album to fruition. Banjo, keyboards, twelve-string, whistling, melodica, tambourines and so on…Everything congeals into a compelling collection of songs that aren’t quite folk and aren’t quiet pop.
In fact, it’s really hard for me to truly place this album in any sense. I’ve heard comparisons to Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel and Jeff Buckley, and I myself have been tempted to associated the duo with Andrew Bird (whisting? inclusion of “bird” in their name?), but when it really comes down to it Cardboard Wings stirs up a lot more as it flaps its wings. All of the above seeps in, but so does a bunch of other stuff, including a lot that is uniquely Birdlips.
Thematically, Cardboard Wings draws from a specific timeline (Usher’s European travels) but the spirit of the album is much more expansive. There’s love, uncertainty, doubt, regret, dreams and pretty much anything else that is important in life. The fact that Lindsay and Cliff have continued to offer terrific live versions of these songs as just a duo shows how solid and poignant these tunes are.
I can’t deny that I’m impartial when it comes to Birdlips. I’ve been to tons of their shows. They are my friends. But they are friends who really do make wonderful music. So, please check them out if you haven’t already.