by Joe Gutierrez
Urge to Merge, the second and final record from Birthing Hips, decimates any expectations of what a band of bass, drums, guitar, and vocals, can do in a room together. On Bandcamp, they describes themselves as “noisy defective pop music for freaks,” and the label holds up. Released by NNA Tapes, the cover-art depicts a ferocious dog hungrily eyeing a Queen of Hearts card with a bite taken out of it, held up by fingertips cloaked in black gloves, juxtaposed with the album’s title in a bristling typeface reminiscent of black metal. Unleashed nearly a year ago, on November 17, 2017, the Boston band’s last breath showcases a gnarly smorgasbord of genres- heavy metal, post-punk, free jazz, pop- tossed in a blender and left on overnight. Urge To Merge was recorded at former New York DIY haven Silent Barn by Brooklyn band Ava Luna’s Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader, themselves no strangers to genre-bending. Each instrument- voice included- has a distinct personality with its own quirks and hues, capable of relaying a range of moods and emotions. You know a record is special when it can make you perceive music in a whole new way- especially impressive if that record arrives in the twenty-first century.
Opening track “No Pressure” emerges like a creature from the muck of a swamp, climbing out of grimy water and breaking into a sprint soon as midnight hits. The band coordinates the pace of their playing with a calculated viciousness. Certain lurches of sound erupt like blown out birthday candles immersing a room in darkness. Vocalist Carrie Furniss commands both the role of shrieking banshee and cooing angel, at times the screeching of brakes on a perfectly paved road and at others like strawberry syrup squirted onto a bowlful of gravel. Guitarist Wendy Eisenberg is a virtuoso, a master of the six-string. She fluctuates wildly between barbed-wire feedback wreckage- sorta like the sensation of pressing buttons on a remote control or keys on a keyboard when the machine isn’t working and you desperately need it to- and sleek scale plummets and climbs that may or may not pay homage to classical records. Drummer Owen Winter controls their kit impeccably, a hole puncher on hyper speed, a spinning wrecking ball with a broken lever. The drummer lays the perfect foundation for the madness that dances above and beyond it, and when called for, garnishes both sound and silence with an unexpected melange of cymbal crashes and snare snaps.
Furniss and Eisenberg, on top of their technical profundity, give the record a biting humor and commentary through the lyrics. “Belly Please” is a crumpled up grocery list rolling through a grimy grocery store parking lot. “I Want This Place Impeccable” is a mix between a monsoon and a sitcom storyline, the guitarist and vocalist playing bickering roommates over the nerve-wrenching soundtrack underneath. Bassist Andres Abenante maneuvers his instrument with incredible skill, sometimes providing a steady gruel of a groove for the band to hover above, other times veering off in a completely different direction in some other garage way across town (making it clear how prevalent the influence of free jazz is upon Birthing Hips). “Internet” starts with drums like one of those monkey cymbal toys and a bass riff like a whiff traveling through a manhole cover from the sewers. Over that, haunting vocals slip out before a vile breakdown. A crunchy demented bass riff is soaked in aftershock guitar feedback, an electric surge power plant jam. Vocals like singed wires emit shocks from a broken steel box and later- an eruption into a thrashing party popper of doom.
“HEP” is the most sporadic track on the album, paintball explosions of sound crisscrossing insanely over a cascading groove, gibberish spewed charmingly from Furniss’ voicebox, guitar fretboard cackling like free verse hammered out on a broken typewriter. Furniss' jazz vocal training is showcased beautifully on “24 Million Views” as she runs up and down scales and threatens to veer off into oblivion. The chorus of “Droplet” feels like getting stuck in your car during a thunderstorm, a massively dark transition from it carnivalesque other parts. In the song’s bone-chilling climax, Furniss lets rip a thirteen second long shriek over high-pitched oscillating guitar. At the end of the track there’s this bent bass note that’s just pulled off incredibly, almost a wink at how fantastic the band must know they are. Closing track “A Wish” is Birthing Hips’ goodbye kiss. What begins as off-kilter Disney classic theme music mutates into a spaghetti-western tumbleweed thrashed ballad of desperation, like Roy Orbison making a foray into noise rock.
In an interview with the blog Raised By Gypsies, Eisenberg states, “our songwriting process is one of us comes up with an idea and it becomes the THING with which the rest of the material has to contend. We either directly juxtapose the style of that original material from section to section, or we develop it throughout the song as a through-line. Dance between references; song forms... I think you have to take each song for what it is and what it presents in each moment of its becoming.” The guitarist's answer gives a blip of a blueprint to understanding the monumental talent and chemistry of one of this decade’s greatest bands. Birthing Hips called it quits in conjunction with the release of Urge to Merge, with intentions of focus upon other bands and solo projects. The record now rides the waves of the World Wide Web, waiting to be discovered by other music nerds and aspiring rockers bound to drop their jaws in awe upon first listen. No doubt Birthing Hips’ output will continue to challenge and inspire the ears of others, driving them to be courageous in their weirdness and artistic endeavors.