"Portraits," the second song on the second album by Triad-meets-Triangle quintet Filthybird, is the only tune singer/ songwriter Renée Mendoza Haran has written about her husband, Filthybird guitarist and arranger Brian Haran. It was a wedding present, she says, an homage to his thick skin and work ethic, to her comfort in their relationship. "Let me grow to become lavender and oranges in your hand," she sings over a warped country trot, outlining the possibility of their future.
"Portraits," then, should be a straightforward love number, an easy inlet into Songs for Other People. But tell that to the springy rhythm shifts here, or the guitar lines that sound like the loudspeakers of a honky-tonk but slink and slide with post-punk angularity. Where other bands might defer to the obvious and easy, Filthybird strives toward the challenge. And on the glorious, rich Songs for Other People, they mostly capitalize.
Songs for Other People is just 10 songs and 40 minutes, and Mendoza's voice—as capable of ruminative brood ("Mostly of Waves") as it is self-righteous charge ("Now I Know Better")—affords each tune some deep-setting hook. Whether contemplating mortality via James Joyce on the whistle-along "Stephen Dedalus" or the fallible nature of chance during "Feather Down," Mendoza's vocal ease gives each song a perfect pop grace. But the structures twist and turn, and the elements—the chords of Mendoza's guitar and piano lines, the choices in Otto Hauser's drumming—shift in delightful, unpredictable ways. Equally complicated and compelling, it's a swirl of paisley pop and textured college rock anchored somewhere between Joni Mitchell and The Clientele.
Mid-album pair "Pick Me Up" and "Last Night," for instance, use their introductions as a chance for instant diversion, the band flipping tempos and Mendoza shifting her tone before either tune is 15 seconds old. "Mostly of Waves" stutters and staggers through its verses, Hauser pulling and pushing the beat to emphasize the trouble in Mendoza's tone; twice, though, the band lunges into distended, driving passages, their roar matched by Mendoza's own crisscrossing harmonies and newfound resolve. "The world is made mostly of waves/ You're to ride them, never fight them," she hurls during the last such outburst, pushing forward as though indeed skating the crest of a wave. These are the sorts of smart, understated moves Filthybird makes throughout Songs for Other People—and that, in turn, make the LP 40 of the most winning, charming minutes you'll hear all year.