When the Birds Go

Author's Notes
If William Faulkner's classic masterpiece The Sound and the Fury were transcribed, here's what it would sound like in my mind. This once appeared on the now-defunct Eye Gone Black site.

A musical composition of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury? You might already be thinking of ringing bells, ticking clocks and dripping water, all thrown together in a jumbled-up mess with accents of crashing glass and crescendoing wails. Instead, The Salt Licks tell their tragic story through a seemingly simple yet complex medley of string and brass instruments, joined by the sweet voice of a single wind-driven flute woven throughout. The Salt Licks' bittersweet debut album, When the Birds Go, left deep tones resonating within my heart with a newfound compassion for the struggling families of the South.

At the start of the album, listeners are treated to the booming voice of Reverend Shegog, who narrates the beginnings of an Easter sermon. As the sound of bells fades away, a violin picks up, soft and serene like a church hymn. As the floating melody swims by, soft on the ears and deep in the heart, the slow but steady tremolo of the bass is heard, a comforting sound, coupled with the calm, melodious lull of the flute, lending a false sense of peace to the number. Later punctuated by sharp, vibrato bursts of a trumpet, "The Walking Hill" seems disconnected and abrupt, yet strangely innocent. As the piece draws to a close, peaceful and serene, almost repetitive in its major scales with subtle hints of flute and bass, it seems all is well. The disruptive trumpeting slows, each breath lengthening into long, drawn out crescendoing tones, repeating somewhat sporadically. I could listen to this song on repeat for years and never complain; its sweet, almost honest tones are unhindered by anything and by the end of the eight minute song, the wailing feels normal and natural to the mind as it cuts out, leaving only the slowly fading wisps of flute.

But for those more hardcore listeners (and hopefully not suicidal ones), "Time Is ..." might be more appropriate. From the first listen, I found it appalling how these two songs could fit on an album together, much less be from the same band. The shortest of all of the numbers, this piece reflects the idealism of the world with its opening of perfect scales and flowery arpeggios — who knew guitar could be so calming? But this soon changes when an off-key version of Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" proves to be the leading melody of the song. The gentle acoustic sound quickly changes into an electric one, heavy with distortion delay while the flute takes on a sultry, cobra-charmer tone with low, vibrating and sliding notes. Not within thirty seconds of the song, the lyrics (if that's even what you call them) begin: A pure soprano, seemingly out of place in this heavy rock song, cuts through the clutter and utters repeatedly a single word, "roses."

I'm not sure whether I love or hate this song. The overwhelmingly complex and somehow polished mastering of the song skillfully brings together layered and distorted voices, cut off periodically to give the guitar an argumentative call-and-response style riff: "Impurities", a short but disturbing acoustic medley framed by the same awkward sharps and flats found in the main chorus of "Time Is..." The riff, repeated throughout the song, ends on an odd note, crescendoing to a low flat before breaking a guitar string and trailing off into soft flute before continuing with the rest of the song, eventually overlapping near the end of the song. Reminiscent of Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore's noise pop genre, the piece concludes with a smattering of voices, amped-up guitar and what sounds like church bells, cutting off sharply. There are so many things going on during the last thirty seconds of the song, to determine what begins where and ends would be impossible. A strand of flute finishes the piece ten seconds later, evidence of The Salt Licks' true understanding of music and its ability to unify listeners.

This track is followed by a repetitive thirty-second filler "Who am I?", a fast-paced song employing heavy drumming and incomprehensible guitar that, on first listen, seemed to repeat itself over and over again — even though the guitarist claims to have varied his chords. Short and anything but sweet, "Thank you but no" grates on the ears, its sporadic structure making the next piece seem so much better...In this primarily guitar-fueled song, all traces of serenity are gone, the flutist taking a break from his hard work.

But the next piece isn't much better. "Bitch, please" is filled with violent, overly complicated piano chords interwoven with fast, high-pitched vibrato violin. Mainly replaced by a clarinet, the flute returns in one-second bursts, harshly subdued by the angry tones pervading the painful piece. Strangely enough, this piece demonstrates The Salt Licks' mastery of their instruments — just a little too much. The unique and erratic tempo of the piano only serves to demote the quick fingers of the violinist, overcrowding the piece, already abound with incessant detail. Tempted to break the CD in half, I restrained myself, bracing myself for the last and thankfully much softer number of the record.

"I Heard It" is the true gem of the album and a late addition, this unmastered but beautiful and transcending piece provides a perfect finish to When the Birds Go, combining harmonic flutes, organs and once-again acoustic guitars to create a deeply touching hymn, reminiscent of early African American call-and-response songs. The painful, barely-there and grating melodies of the prior movements are gone, replaced solely by heartwarming, slow harmonies that come together to end the "story" on a good tone.

It is a wordless tale, told only through sound and fury. The Salt Licks narrate a seemingly hopeless story of loss and dependence through their extremely talented and versatile flutist, relating the doom of the world to their instrumentals. Memorable but not rememberable, When the Birds Go deals with the issues of human grief and reflects the personality of the monsters that rest within us all.