I love a record that’s a tough one to crack. And speaking of eggs, you gotta have some huevos to lead your album off with a Neil Young cover (not to mention pull it off). And anyone would admit it’s quite a dichotomy: to compare Birds and Batteries’ sunny backstage candor and slick onstage performances with the angular, sometimes counter-intuitive (read: smart, brave) songwriting and production choices heard here, which is why, for me, I’ll Never Sleep Again is the best Bay Area record of 08.

[audio:http://birdsandbatteries.com/audio/birds_batteries_Ill_Never_Sleep_Again.mp3] Birds & Batteries – “I’ll Never Sleep Again”

Case-in-point is the way Mike Sempert’s vocals on “Heart of Gold” lag lazily behind the beat, causing the listener to lean in to hear if he’s gonna make it at the end of each measure, as if to explain to the listener right off the bat, “Hey, were gonna have a chugga-chugga push and pull here for the rest of the album.”

Likewise, I remember my first listen to the title track — I found the dry vocals mixed way out in front to be an unorthodox production choice, especially against the lush instrumentation. But then I started to realize that it really couldn’t be any other way to mix those vocals because he is describing a mindwarp reality in which he is under rusty boats and somehow boats move on the land and pedal-steel blends into monosynth and he has the job of stating plainly that in such a world, one could never sleep again (ever!), so the production choice popped for me and I really felt like I, as listener and as an intelligent person, had been considered in the making of this record. Besides that, the title track gave me what I’ve been looking for (but haven’t found) in Wilco albums post YHF.

Another song highlight is Sempert’s adaptation of an astronomy textbook into lyrical verse on “Star Clusters”. This track is also the best showcase of the band’s ability to blend the laptop stuff with the live instruments (this is evident in this song during their live set as well).

All this to say that good records pull you in and demand subsequent listens. And on top of all that, B&B tie it all together with quasi-instrumental outros or segues that have their own track and their own title and provide a front-to-back continuity found in classics like Neutral Milk Hotel’s Aeroplane Over the Sea and Appleseed Cast’s Low Level Owl Volumes 1 & 2. And to wrap it all up, the end of the record erupts into some epic, anthemic pieces that bring it to the perfect end. Fantastic album! Go see ‘em live!

This contribution was written by guest blogger Pete Gidlund of Winter’s Fall.