From the first swinging synth sounds of Tangerine Sky, Mikey Maramag creates a beguilingly varied album. With headphones on the fluctuating synths of the LP’s title track sweep from ear to ear, through speakers the underlying beat is laced with immediacy: either way the album-opener softly demands attention. A minimalistic bass line beneath pulls the offbeat synth into unison with the track’s kicks and claps, and suggests a build to a quicker pace. Maramag’s opening track remains laid back however, content in repetition, and this is no bad thing, establishing the relaxed emphasis of much of the album, making the more dancey tracks stand out, as well as allowing Maramag’s voice to provide melodic support to the track. Working under the moniker Blackbird Blackbird recalls multiple musical references, from the light acoustic pop of The Beatles’ Blackbird, to the popular 1926 jaunty jazz record Bye Bye Blackbird (Maramag’s original stage name). However, the name becomes perhaps most significant when considered in relation to the light and uplifting nature of Maramag’s voice. Although his lyrics are simplistic and often repetitive, the San Franciscan’s singing floats in and out of the album, feathering it with nuanced high notes and quavering inflection. Never displaying a wide range of pitch but never needing to, this lofty voice takes simplistic and repeated lyrics such as “I feel it in my bones” and “little darlin’ dear, you got nothing to fear”, and makes them memorable.
The layered guitar and bass guitar riffs that dominate Love Unlimited are a mainstay of many songs on the LP, injecting an acoustic edge that nonetheless blends nicely with the more electronic basis of Blackbird Blackbird’s sound palette. On tracks such as Darlin Dear and Grow Old With Me (Don’t Let Go), it is hard not to make the comparison to Tycho, as the plucked guitar notes bounce off each other and background synths provide a gently uplifting ambience. In Rare Candy the guitar is distorted, slightly overdriven, but instead of making for a heavier track the rest of the underlying song cushions this noise, following Maramag’s “oo”s through an unquestionably feel-good melody. The interwoven guitar riffs act as a major source of melody on much of the LP, influential on each track they touch, as well as making the idea of a live rendition far more appealing.
There Is Nowhere instantly stands out from this plucky, guitar-crafted sound, established by a Flying Lotus-esque stretched synth sound alternating on every other beat. The tempo is slowed, and a slow sense of reflection is established as Maramag croons; “There is nowhere I’d rather be”. Whilst one of the shorter tracks on the album, the slow pace creates a lull that sets up the following tracks to become high points of the album. Treehouse is a tension builder, building from an irregular beat to a loose, but regular and dancey rhythm, and from an introductory repetition of jumbled synths to a sudden break out of euphorically toned keyboard sounds and fast paced panpipes. Deconstructing and re-layering this transition, a palpable build-up is created and after several fades and restarts, Summer’s Almost Here emerges from bird noises. A pounding and regular rhythm runs from beginning to end as tiers of complementing melodies capitalise on the previous build. Here, Blackbird Blackbird sounds more Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs than Toro Y Moi, creating a song almost tribal in its jumpiness, with Maramag’s voice acting like a distorted sample, gently “ah”-ing in the background. A brief fade into raindrop noise is merely a tease, making the drop into a reprise triumphantly big.
Blackbird Blackbird’s latest LP may lack a unifying genre, but this allows Maramag freedom to create. Tracks such as Beasts and Polaris are exemplary of the intricacy of his work, mazes of tight clicks and kicks against overlaps of keyboard, layered synths, and sampled voices. While consistency in genre cannot unify Maramag’s third full-length release, his infectiously uplifting tone is a constant, and a welcome one. From the laid back opening to the more dancey songs, Tangerine Sky is so nice to listen to because it is enduringly and undeniably optimistic, intrinsically summery in the lofty enthusiasm of its sound.
Words: Rich Jinks