There’s always certain expectations for established artists breaking off from their main projects to try something new, and we’ve seen side projects arise from a number of different circumstances; things such as personal feuds, creative differences, or if a band just has nowhere else to go musically. None of these cases really fit the group known as Slaughter Beach, Dog, who started simply as a writing exercise for the co-front-man of Modern Baseball, Jake Ewald. Before writing songs for Modern Baseball’s latest album, Holy Ghost, Ewald found himself in a funk where the hyper-personal lyrics he was used to writing weren’t coming as easy with the band constantly working and touring. “I just got to the point where I couldn’t muster anything interesting to write about, so I made up this fictional story. It ended up working pretty well; that’s when I wrote the first Slaughter Beach, Dog album” says Ewald in an interview with The Fader. That album, Welcome, released fall of 2016, showed a logical progression from the tones of angst and innocence found on previous works by Ewald. There was still an edge to the sound, and the writing was introspective as usual, just this time focused on a whole new cast of characters. Earlier this year, Ewald announced that Modern Baseball would be taking a break in order for the members to focus on mental health and other individual projects. Later on, with the help of band mate Ian Farmer, Slaughter Beach, Dog released the four song EP, Motorcycle.jpg, which showed off a much more sparse and laid back sound, and gave listeners an indication of just where the project was heading. Two weeks after Modern Baseball officially began their indefinite hiatus with three sold out shows at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer, fans could find solace in Slaughter Beach, Dog’s newest full length album: Birdie.
The album, completely recorded by Ewald and completely mixed by Farmer, opens with a gentle acoustic ballad, “Phoenix”, which features a number soft, subtle sounds that surround Ewald’s solemn, yet optimistic voice. The beauty of this song, like many throughout Birdie, is found in the details. Ewald’s words always carry a unique weight and emotion, and the new, open soundscapes seem to draw a certain attention to them, and before you know it, you’re vividly inside someone else’s world. Ewald has said that the writing of Birdie draws a lot from past events and things he’s never really written about. Even when the pace is a bit more upbeat, like in the following two tracks, “Gold and Green” and “Pretty O.K.” the narratives are filled with details specific enough to make seemingly mundane memories impressionable and meaningful. Whether it’s a layered, jangly pop-rock song like “Fish Fry” or something minimal and intimate such as “Buttercup”, a noticeable difference between the writing of Slaughter Beach, Dog songs compared to Modern Baseball songs is the themes are much less focused on internal feelings, and instead they try to understand the settings and situations of the past. Like on “Shapes I Know”, Ewald explores the various moods and actions of a family around Christmas, and how everyone experiences the same thing in a very different way.
This theme can be applied to the album as a whole as well. Each song tells a different story, and throughout the various minute details, Ewald is able to find a certain comfort and balance in his own experiences. We see this on the album’s closer, “Acolyte” with the line “Man it cuts like a dull knife when you’re young and you’re told, ‘makes sense when you’re older…’ Darling, let’s get old.” There’s little urgency in Ewald’s voice as he sings and whistles along with the simple guitar melody, but you can tell the words are coming from someone who believes in what they’re saying. Birdie is a prime example of how sometimes, less is more, and with Ewald’s storytelling and songwriting abilities, Slaughter Beach, Dog is sure make an impression on whoever gives this album a listen.