The Phantom Tollbooth

The Inconsolable Longing
Artist: Champion Birdwatchers
Label: Redshift Recordings
Time: 11 tracks/50:30

Reviews are subject to opinion more than anything else, and many a CD has been overblown or blown up all because of the reviewer's opinion.  Now, I'm not saying that this is a great album, but the truth is if you understand it, then you will love it.

Champion Birdwatchers's sound could be called a hybrid of several others, combining the full guitars of Bloomsday, the emotional tension of Tool, and the intelligent lyrics of Bumblepuppy, but with an overall minimalist tendency.

The band never really overpowers you musically, but they do emotionally. The vocals are very passionate, sort of like a soft-sung emo style.  At times the feeling of the songs is almost like that of a poetry reading or a jazz club.  Also worthy of note is the use of a cello, which seems to add just the right touch when called upon.

Lyrically, the band takes high honors.  The lyrics, and for the most part the songs, are laid out in poetry form, which I greatly appreciate as an aspiring poet myself. Just read those to the song "Resolution":

The packaging is worthy of note too, being plastered with quotes from C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and Eric Campuzano.  This is obviously a well-read band, and the influences definitely show.  The overall production is good, though at times it falters and fails to carry across the music as well as it should.

If you are a fan of moody alternative bands like Bloomsday and Bumblepuppy, then you will definitely want to buy this album.  If you're not into the whole poetry coffeehouse scene and don't like your music deep, then you'll probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

By Joe Rockstroh  (9/12/98)

I'm glad I live in a universe with classical music. I'm joyful that ours is a world with something called "indie rock." And I'm exhilarated that I inhabit a country which burped out psychedelic jamming years ago.

Why? Because of the existence of those things, Champion Birdwatchers are able to come up with their sprawling, almost improvisational mess of guitar, drums, percussion, bass, cello, and flute. It's barely cohesive one minute, gelling into a soft '70s kickback vibe the next. Beautiful melodies drifting here and there. Acid-tripping without the acid. The tone and vocals often remind one strongly of Jeremy Enigk, but Champion Birdwatchers are much weirder, with tribal percussion, spoken word, and psychedelic swirling sounds. The songs don't stand out on their own much at all; this is an album you listen to for the vibe. You have to be in the mood.

Like another possible distant comparison--Poor Old Lu--they draw much from C.S. Lewis and have a true coffeehouse philosophical poetic bent to them, adding extra layers of rich meaning simply by the way they print the lyrics in the sleeve:

calls to                ("hold my hand," He says
deep                         "hold your breath,
in the roar
waterfalls                 we are going under")
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
over me                  thank you
                              i've burned for your peace
(from "The arrival")
I really can't complain about The Inconsolable Longing, except to say I'm hoping on their next album they come down to earth a bit and work with slightly more conventional song structures, while still infusing them with the same psychedelia, poetry, and grooviness. There's a bit too much loitering about and not enough focus. This is super stuff, but another album just like it would definitely be overkill. I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

By Josh Spencer    (10/27/98)