The launch of The Redwoods Music earlier this year by local MVPs Al Howard, Matt Molarius and Josh Rice seemed like more of an organizational tactic than a business decision. All of the artists on the label have intersecting lineups and styles, making the whole idea of The Redwoods something like a collective, with an in-house band like that of Stax Records. Having that much creative energy in one place can only be a good thing, however, particularly when it results in new projects as stunning and as thrilling as Birdy Bardot's self-titled debut album.
Bardot, whose real name is Emily Reilly, is a well-traveled local musician who has performed with The New Kinetics and The Rosalyns. Here, she's backed with a list of familiar names from throughout the Redwoods catalog: Howard, Rice, Molarius, Taurus Authority's Jake Najor, Mrs. Henryís Daniel Cervantes and The Heavy Guilt's Jason Littlefield. The combination of talents is impressive enough on paper, but the album itself surpasses what could easily have been dismissed as another example of San Diego music scene incest (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself).
Leadoff track "Treading Water" is an utterly breathtaking opener, juxtaposing bluesy acoustic guitar riffs against ethereal, ghostly keys and Reilly's own beautifully spectral vocals. It's not too far afield from one of Howard's other projects, The Midnight Pine, but with an almost shoegaze-like treatment of feedback and effects. It's one of the most haunting songs I've heard from a San Diego band in a long time.
Not that the rest of the album pales at all, though that first track does leave a steep hill to climb for the other seven tracks. The powerful "I Get Gone" is a dark yet boisterous gothic-country waltz, with just a trace of Black Sabbath around its sinister Americana plucks and strums. And the booming organ riff of "Keep Your Distance," in another life, might have sounded just at home in a hardcore hip-hop track.
Bardot's band is both versatile and instrumentally strong, but it never overshadows Reilly's vocals, which are gorgeous but subtle. And that's true of just about everything here. So I suppose this is as good an argument as any for San Diego music scene incest.