Yellowbirds, once the solo vehicle of Sunshine Apollo’s Sam Cohen, has developed into a fully-fledged band with the sophomore release, Songs From The Vanished Frontier. As songwriter, singer, and guitarist you still get the feeling that this is very much Cohen’s gig, but the additions of drummer Brian Kantor, vocalist/bassist Annie Nero, and her multi-instrumentalist husband Josh Kaufman have brought further refinement to Cohen’s schtick.
Clocking in at under 35 minutes, few of the nine songs risk extemporization. Restraint rules on the record but there’s beauty aplenty in Cohen’s more tranquil musings. The funereal organ and soft guitar figures that begin “The Vanished Frontier” herald to a world-weary reflection on the belief systems that bind us: “What have I believed in?/ How will I deceive me now?”
When the band does let itself off the rein, like on the blissful “The Ceiling”, the slacker vibe is positively dream-like. Midway through this spaced reverie, Cohen’s distorted guitar solo provides a high accentuated by Nero’s lofty bass and Kantor’s gentle percussion. On the final, similarly extended track, “What’s Out There”, Cohen sounds like a horizontal Don McLean contemplating the universe, while his guitar work evokes the mellow moods of Richard Hawley. It’s a slow burner and one of the most satisfying cuts.
Though they don’t jar in any way, it’s easy to get the sense that lyrics aren’t the first thing that Cohen considers when constructing a song. It’s more that they glide over and drift in and out of the music without forcing you to stop to examine them. “Before you’re out in the yard like a liar/ Before you get to the fork in the cul-de-sac/ come back,” Cohen entreats in the lonesome pine of “Love Stories.” The words fit Cohen’s opaque purpose, while the music is the greater mirror to his soul.
Essential Tracks: “The Ceiling”, “The Vanished Frontier”, and “What’s Out There”