The Mynabirds return with a politically charged album that proves their debut was no fluke.
2012, Saddle Creek Records
7.5 / 10.0
Laura Burhenn’s band The Mynabirds made a stellar debut in 2010 with What We Lost in the Fire, We Gain in the Flood, mixing folk, rock, and gospel to establish the Mynabirds as a band to watch. Generals proves the Mynabirds’ debut was no fluke and marches in strong with a dramatic shift in tone and musical elements. The choices stray from the original album’s folk thick sound in favor of pop skewed singles; however, don’t believe that the Mynabirds are flying toward cheap thrills of school girl romances. Generals is thematically heavier and strengthened by Burhenn’s equally soulful and unflinchingly tough vocals.
Burhenn has stated that Generals is a protest album, striking out against war, politics, the fractured economy. The material is certainly ripe for pairing with the Mynabirds’ previous folk/Americana sound, but the impact of her songs is not lost in the band’s new musical direction. Opening track “Karma Debt” makes it abundantly clear that this is not the same Mynabirds. Sounding like it was born from the same environment as Zola Jesus’ music, “Karma Debt” excites with an anthemic chorus before dropping some hard to ignore lyrics, ”When the war is done / And we’ve finished all our songs / Will they offset the colossal karma debt?”.
Much of Generals shifts back and forth from bluesy-rock to the Feist-y produced numbers. “Wolf Mother” stomps and claps its way along to a rhythm more expected from The Black Keys than the Mynabirds. The following “Generals” adds a southern gothic twist as Burhenn calls for revolution. Even when pulling away from Generals’ rock-infused moments, the album doesn’t suffer in likability. The ‘80s pop flare of “Radiator Sister” features one of the album’s best moments, a swirling handclapping sound effects smorgasbord as Burhenn repeatedly sings, “Radiator”. “Mightier Than The Sword” uses Burhenn’s voice as an instrumental element, melding it with the song’s production. It builds to a “ha ha ha ho ho” melody that comes together in a beautiful grandiose backdrop of choir harmonies and bells.
Burhenn is smart in packing Generals with epic flourishes. The move only strengthens the album’s protest theme as being a call to arms. Not every song completely works (the electro-pop “Disarm”), but Generals has plenty of good moments and closes on an excellent note with “Greatest Revenge”, a song against war. “How will they know what freedom means / When it’s forged to every cause and claim / On the fear assembly lines / Oh the American machine”. Some listeners might think Burhenn’s comments are out of line and unpatriotic, but perhaps, she’s just too honest. And that’s a trait that many Americans are sadly missing.
Purchase: The Mynabirds – Generals