Get Yer Yagas Out
Drowsing from the scraggly brush of Athens, Ga., country–rock sextet Futurebirds ascend leafy peaks, drink from placid (and likely mind-altering) waters and occasionally flirt with redundancy in their sophomore LP, Baba Yaga.
For those uninitiated to Slavic folklore—and really, what’s your excuse?—the release’s namesake, a mythical woodland hag whose closest relative is probably the witch of Hansel and Gretel, has kept little Yuris and Anastasias up at night for many a Siberian winter. Now, Vladimir Putin’s favorite grim-faced earth goddess has—say it with me—finally received her North American due. But was it worth the unbearable wait?
The answer: Yes and no. “Yes” in the sense that Eastern Europe’s totemic ancestress is now at least tacitly referenced on a U.S.-made record, and “no” in the sense that this album really isn’t about Baba Yaga at all—but rather just invokes her name to cast a spell of arboreal, owl-dotted mystery. Pity, I know. But to our consolation, between the yearning lilt of “Virginia Slims” and Eagles-like chorus of “American Cowboy,” the music ain’t half bad.
Hitting on opioid folk à la Mazzy Star (“St. Summercamp”) and the subadult, bedheaded pop of contemporaries Dr. Dog (“The Doewg”), Futurebirds get a lot of mileage out of their airy, echo-laden production and a perennially seesawing slide guitar. The capacious enormity of “Death Awaits” whiffs with trans-mortem noises of the afterlife to come, while “Dig,” probably the album’s high point, bobs with a pared-down cowboy gait across ghostly purple vistas—proving, once and for all, Steve Miller’s not the only “Space Cowboy” in town.
But that’s Baba Yaga when it’s cooking with grease. For an LP with such a bleary country–psych aesthetic, the songs’ colors tend to bleed into each other a bit too much, sometimes leaving the listener with sonic déjà vu from track to track. “Felix Helix,” for instance, plays like a statistical average of the album, whereas “The Light” comes off samey and trifling. “Lan Lines,” on the other hand, seems to blur the lines between all aforementioned.
Still, with Futurebirds’ second full-length recording, there’s merit here, and there’s no doubting the band’s spirited and capable musicianship. It’s just that with a little more editing and a few more bang-up melodies—as well as, for this bizarre fetishist, a literal track or two about the actual Baba Yaga—we’d have a real gem on our hands. Yes, our clammy, witchlike hands.