I feel like punk music gets a bad rap. There is this image of punk music being young rebellious kids playing fast and loud and not giving a shit — which, a lot of times it is, and that kicks ass in its own right — but people tend to write punk off. There are obvious exceptions to the rule, as punk is also notorious for being political in its lyrics and making clear, powerful statements, but I feel like overall, punk is looked at as lacking substance to some degree, and does not get the recognition it deserves. It’s certainly not the most accessible genre, but there is certainly more to it than meets the eyes and ears. It’s a genre with a lot of heart.
Long Birds is a Champaign-based skate-punk band that began as a folk-punk duo with members Elliott Ross primarily on vocals and guitar and Mina Mazeikis on bass and vocals. The band is now a trio, and have had a few different drummers over the years, their current drummer being John Gagnon. The group has just released their debut album I Had A Dream I Was Skateboarding [hereafter referred to as IHADIWS].
Album cover for I Had A Dream I Was Skateboarding borrowed from Long Birds' Bandcamp.
The liner notes on the album give you a disclaimer for what you’re going to hear: “hopefully it is listenable enough for you to enjoy the songs on here (if it isn’t listenable that’s just one of the aesthetics of punk).” The songs are loud and a little sloppy, and the vocals occasionally sound off pitch during more melodic moments. Who cares though? That’s life, right? It’s full of imperfections and little moments of slip ups.
It is in those moments of imperfection that we begin to appreciate the good moments even more. Which in turn makes us give thanks to the imperfections for helping us to recognize the beauty in the good moments. It’s a constant cycle. Does that make sense? We need the bad moments to help us appreciate the good ones. Have you ever heard a song that is so cleanly produced that it doesn’t even sound like humans made it? It loses its heart. We need human error to relate to. That is what this album does so well, in lyrics and performance. Again, that is not to say that these songs sound bad. They don't. They kick major ass.
Ross seems to be the lead singer, with he and Mazeikis occasionally swapping lyrical passages. Mazeikis even has some songs where she takes lead vocals. The guitars on this record are distorted and crisp, with some really great licks thrown in. These songs are not just power chords and screaming. You can tell that all of these members are talented on their respective instruments.
The bass line on “Safety Net/Third Degree” is catchy as hell and the speed at which these songs are played blows my mind. Songs like “Missing Pieces” lean more on the ska side, featuring trumpet and trombone from Austin Slotnick. The horns are a welcome addition, adding even more charm and fun to this already wild album.
The lyrics on this record truly showcase the depth of the band and the maturity in their writing. “Waiting for a choice to make a change, when I should be changing the choices I’m making” screams Elliott Ross on the song “Constraints,” the second track on the new album.
When you dive into the lyrics on IHADIWS, you find there is more than just those “typical” punk emotions of being angsty or hating your parents — all of which are totally valid feelings, by the way. There are very real, heavy emotions in these songs that anyone of any age and background can relate to.
“Is it too late to undress from the constraints that I possess?” — another line from “Constraints” that really hit me in the gut. We get wrapped up in these constraints that we put on ourselves and end up feeling lost and trapped with no escape, hopelessly repeating our actions and wishing for changes that may not come. At least, that is what I took from the track.
There are moments of wittiness and fun as well, like in the song “Calling Off.” The song is an ode to mental health and recognizing that sometimes you need to just take time away from your job that you absolutely despise. “Just chill out, put on some records today. Maybe one day you’ll be okay,” Ross sings, later saying “I don’t care, I’ll take off my underwear.”
It’s also worth noting that this record is self-produced, mixed and mastered by Ross himself. It sounds damn good. The guitars are clear, the drums are clean, the bass tone is great, and the vocals are present.
For a debut album, this to me is wildly impressive. The songs are energetic, filled with passion and instrumental proficiency, and lyrics that touch on depression, burnout, and self-doubt, amongst other things. Throw this record on when you’re feeling sad or angry and you’ll no doubt feel better. Hell, throw it on when you’re already feeling good and you’ll have hell of a good time, too.