- The third track on Claude VonStroke's sophomore full-length is called "Vocal Chords"—and unsurprisingly, it's a Lincoln-log cabin built on shimmering cabers of human vox. Drawing liberally from people like Paul Kalkbrenner and Ellen Allien, the SF-based producer solders ascending vocoder bars over a pumping kick, sliding in a buzzer-beating nominee for best track of 2009. It's no "Aidy's Girl," but it captures the same restless relationship between producer and vocal sample that seemed to define the year. And, yes, like the Darkstar gem, "Vocal Chords" never forces us to choose between our philosopher's hat and our dancing shoes.
The rest of Bird Brain cannot quite maintain that level of intensity or intelligence—other winners abound, such as jazzy slowburner "Aundy" and goofnuts sample experiment "Beat that Bird"—but these are single-notion tracks taken to their satisfying if simplistic ends. "Storm on Lake St. Claire" shows that you only really need a great drum loop and some clever EQ to carry the day and "The Greasy Beat," featuring Bootsy Collins, proves that even Parliament's stage banter was funkier than anything made after 1990.
Overall, this is an easy collection to like, but a hard one to love. VonStroke—Barclay Crenshaw to his notary public—has a clear agenda here: Put the 415 area code back on house's speed dial. With track titles like "California" and "Bay Area" coupled with a kick-heavy kit and a playfully old-school sample arsenal, he's also doffing his hat to the days when DJ Shadow was king. Hell, with a little scribbling 'tablism, "Big 'n Round" could easily been a lost Private Press-era cut. Sadly, Bird Brain could have done with a few more great ideas to keep us coming back, rather than just enough good ones to entertain us for a single listen.
01. Monster Island
02. The Greasy Beat feat. Bootsy Collins
03. Vocal Chords
04. Big n Round
05. Bay Area
08. Beat That Bird
09. Storm on Lake St. Claire
10. Jasper's Baby Robot