All Function One – Birdpen (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

I read recently that none other than Lou Reed said that he often didn’t know what his songs were about until he performed them live. Only then, in that live environment, did they begin to reveal their true nature and start making sense to him. The suggestion that the artist isn’t always the most reliable narrator or an expert on their own songs is an intriguing one.

Similarly, songs that are written about one set of circumstances can often find new meaning and more poignant parallels in others. The songs on All Function One certainly fall into this category. When Dave Pen and Mike Bird…hence the name…originally wrote these songs, it was to explore the theme of people cut off from the world, those in self-isolation, accessing it via only digital means or fearful of what lay just outside their door. And then, as 2020’s pandemic changed our lives forever, they realised that their songs had taken on added meaning and that they had already explored the fall out of such events.

Weaving elements of electronica through often understated alt-rock landscapes, they play with dark tones and tensions one minute and explosive drama the next. At one extreme you have songs like Shakes, an intimate and heartfelt ballad built from simple guitar lines and confessional lyrics, at the other Flames, a searing and brooding slice of rock-noir. Between these, you find the gorgeous and beguiling electronica of Seat 35, the robotic spoken word led Changes and the slow, symphonic majesty of Undone.

A gorgeous album, but one with depth, both lyrical and musical and, sadly, covering themes that are getting more and more relevant with each passing year.

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