With its debut LP, last year's Bazaar Bazaar, Birds of Avalon had something to prove: This was The Cherry Valence splinter cell that didn't keep the name, the one that adulterated the straight-ahead force of the source with a dose of textural psychedelics and scorching prog. The band mostly rose to the challenge, using the harmonize-and-diverge guitars of Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler like sling shots for a rhythm section of heavy rocks. Alas, the disc lived its 35 minutes in italics, a bit breathless and impatient: From the swagger of the chunky "Superpower" to the searing single "Horse Called Dust," Bazaar Bazaar sometimes felt like offering proof of potency meant racing to the finish line. And because BOA made haste, its influences sometimes felt more like templates.
Burden of proof met, Outer Upper Inner—the band's excellent six-track EP, lovingly recorded by Mitch Easter to tape—is where the strain comes out: Birds of Avalon feels relaxed but not content, confident but not overly so. Its pop enthusiasm shines brightly, especially on magnetic opener "Measure of the Same," guided by Craig Tilley's sweet singing and a heavy Merseybeat that skips along a playful turnaround. But "The Reeds," perhaps the band's most accomplished and convoluted heavy track to date, steels the edge. Scott Nurkin's drums overrun everything. The guitars wind and bite through tight little passes. Tilley attacks his lines about phantoms and shadows like a warrior. He's never been more convincing as a hard-rock frontman.
But it's at ease that Birds of Avalon takes the most chances: Cheetie Kumar sings the piano-built "Hazy 98," and bassist David Mueller augments the melody with a saxophone. From behind his drumkit, Scott Nurkin even leads the closer "Keep It Together, Thackery." And it sounds so perfect, like a band finally staking its own territory, wider than we could have ever guessed.
No local dates are scheduled for Birds of Avalon, but Outer Upper Inner is out March 18 on Volcom Entertainment.