The Birdwatcher – Afternoon Tales the Morning Never Knew

The Birdwatcher
Afternoon Tales the Morning Never Knew

With Afternoon Tales the Morning Never Knew, Windsor for the Derby’s Dan Matz shakes off the shackles of collaboration and goes into solitary mode. No, he doesn’t exactly play every instrument on here, but he is, for all intents and purposes, the Birdwatcher. Now, if Portastatic’s taught us anything, it’s that indie-rock solo projects mean two things, acoustic guitars and cheap keyboards. The Brooklyn-based Matz sticks to that manual, humbly offering up these 12 subdued slices of modest pop songwriterly songcraft. He may not have Cat Stevens’ deft fingers or way with a tune, but Matz is still the furthest thing from a roustabout, and thus acquits himself finely.
There’s little pomp to this record, and no extravagance beyond the occasional electronic embellishment. What we have here are solid 21st-century folk songs, odes to the afternoon and hymns to the half-awake. Sticking to a loose thematic framework concerning the afternoon, the record shimmers by in a hurry, working its way into your noggin almost subconsciously.
The opening instrumental, “Afternoon Tales,” with its dream-like wash of keyboard, acoustic guitar, and banjo plinks, resembles the Summer Hymns and immediately sets the laid-back tone for the album. When Matz first sings on the second track, “Empty Boat,” we can sort of see why Windsor for the Derby largely eschewed vocals; here Matz compensates for his awkward voice through multi-tracking the vocals and singing in a hushed, speak-sing tone that adds to the mellow ambience. A number of songs stand out; sideman Jim Kimball’s song “Trouble” sounds like the Red House Painters before fading out into a brief, Derby-ish electronic noise wash, which then segues directly into “Crocodile,” a nice, melancholy acoustic plea for some alone-time. The beautiful “Drawn” is “bliss out” music for My Bloody Valentine fans, while final track “Air Defines” possesses a bit of Before and After Science’s studied and restrained sonic depth.
As a whole, the record has the feeling of what an Elliot Smith-type would maybe sound like were he to incorporate keyboards, drones, and occasional yawns of noise into his repertoire. Those who would say the melodies are not that fantastic or memorable might be missing the point; the Birdwatcher’s intriguing results do not hinge upon melody or musicality, but instead on the tone and feeling instilled by the music, and the overall impression of a lazy afternoon rolling by.
In a way Matz has had a bizarre career path. With Windsor for the Derby he created mechanical and inhuman sounds while located in the American South. After relocating up north to the big city, however, he goes on to write far more intimate and personal music that has more in common with traditional American folk music than the robotic sounds favored by the Derby. Perhaps Mr. Matz is a tad bit homesick? If so, I would assume it would be for his more recent home of Austin, and definitely not for his previous locale of Tampa. Who the hell would ever be homesick for Tampa, for God’s sake?