We Will Become Like Birds

Erin McKeown's fourth album is a deeply personal release, dealing with breakup and life transition. From the negative experiences which served as the album's wellspring, McKeown has crafted a musically-savvy and uplifting collection of a dozen songs.

McKeown has stated that after her 2000 Distillation record, she wanted to write songs which were less about her own life and troubles, so she made 2003's Grand, large chunks of which were inspired by the actress Judy Garland. Making another 180 degree turn, McKeown has returned to reflecting on her own experiences--particularly a recent relationship breakup.

The album digs down into this theme immediately with "Aspera"--the Latin word for difficulties--and McKeown's lyrics refer to the phrase ad astra per aspera, or "to the stars through difficulties." Much of the album explores this metaphorical attempt to reach for the heavens despite personal woes.

Most of the songs conjure such images and even many of the titles are evocative, including "To the Stars," "Life on the Moon," and "Float." The lyrics sift through romantic rubble to find hope amidst ruin. In "We Are More," McKeown writes, "You hate the words of war, but baby face it! that's what it's been for us/We were never good fighters or very good soldiers/But through this we are more."

Musically, Erin continues to steer away from the old-timey sound of Distillation and to explore new territory. "To the Stars" and "White City" are thoughful rockers, "Beautiful (I Guess)" is a folk number juiced up with interesting rhythms and synth sounds, and "We Are More" would sound quite comfortable on a '70s-era Paul Simon album.

McKeown describes We Will Become Like Birds as a "hugely sad and an ultimately joyful" album. It's also perhaps her most coherent and solid record yet, with a strong emotional center and terrific songs that, like the titular avian creatures, take flight and soar high and long after hearing them.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director