'No Arms And No Friends' drums by Daniel Green and lead guitar by David Ringland
'Phantom Limb' and 'The Experiments Of Dr Sarconi' drums by Thomas Marsh
Produced by David Ringland at The Well, Hove, UK
Mastered at Church Road Recording Company, Hove, UK
'Birdengine. The name conjures up one of Jan Svankmajer’s animated, nightmarish fairy tales; some fragile gothic contraption of bones and wires, of greasy feathers and rusty hinges. An unnatural, not to say unwholesome, hybrid of artifice and nature, designed for flight but jerkily erratic, both antiquated and impossibly fantastic at the same time. A tiny machine with a sickening, beating heart.
Birdengine is the musical guise of Dorset-born, Brighton-based Lawry Joseph Tilbury, a thirty-one year old singer-songwriter whose hollowed-out head is a far darker and stranger object than even Svankmajer could create. This, after all, is a man who can silence a room with the lines “I spent the summer cutting heads off dogs / I spent the winter trying to sew them back on,” sung entirely deadpan. And following a handful of EPs and a mini-album, I Fed Thee Rabbit Water, in 2007, The Crooked Mile marks Birdengine’s full-length debut on Bleeding Heart Recordings- formed out of the leftfield musical club night that has hosted many of Lawrie’s live sets over the past half-decade or so.
The Crooked Mile is unashamedly Outsider Music, riddled with themes of alienation and a sense of not belonging; an outcast even among the freaks. It’s a dark carnival moving on creaking wheels through the back roads and country lanes at midnight, along the Lovecraftian boundaries of dream and reality. And while Birdengine’s songs superficially resemble the parched gothic storytelling of The Handsome Family or Will Oldham, Tilbury is actually closer to a feral child of Comus and Tiny Tim, as much showbiz oddity as witch-starred changeling. Haunted, dry-ditch dirges mix with soaring melodies that recall Radiohead or Muse, though without any of the bombastic rock sensibilities that would suggest.
For instance, the quasi-mariachi guitar playing on opener ‘Phantom Limb’ conveys a certain gothic intensity and urgency, while swooping falsetto vocals hint at the operatic, but pomposity and pretension are always avoided thanks to the lo-fi, acoustic setting and the genuinely unnerving strangeness of it all. After the enigmatic ‘I, Dancing Bear,’ with only picked guitar and birdsong for accompaniment, there’s a sense of sudden, unexpected propulsion when bass and drums kick in, along with fluttering organ, on forthcoming single ‘No Arms, No Friends.’ We’re crashing through the trees, far from the forest path, tumbling towards who knows what, as spindly guitar notes drape cobwebs across your face, and the driving, two-note bassline communicates a raw, post-punk simplicity.
But its Tilbury’s striking voice that’s the album’s central feature. He sings as if with a mouth full of dry pebbles, like a clay figure unearthed from a drought-stricken river bed and breathed into uncanny half-life. Beneath the earthy primitivism and rustic reticence, there’s a sophisticated, diva-ish torch singer in the mould of Rufus Wainright or Antony Hegarty, struggling to be free. Indeed, with expressionistic lyrics pulled from the top drawer of Dr Caligari’s cabinet, these songs owe more to the Brecht-Weill darkness of pre-war cabaret and avant-garde theatre than they do to the populist naivety of genuine folk music; witness the violin and cello that slide and sway as though on castors through ‘Ghost Club,’ or the cultivated drama of ‘The Experiments of Dr Sarconi.’ If there are folk influences, they’re distinctly European; French, Basque, Flemish perhaps. But these dark, freakishly surreal songs are crafted, not sprung spontaneously from the common soil. “You’ve got no toes, only hooves; only hooves where toes should be,” Tilbury sings on ‘Hoof,’ conjuring the films of Bunuel and David Lynch rather than contemporary freak-folk’s cinematic touchstone, The Wicker Man.
Nevertheless, Birdengine still sound like a Victorian curiosity preserved under glass, akin to the stuffed specimens of extinct and never-existed creatures in Brighton’s Booth Museum. When, on ‘Scarecrow and the Longpig,’ Tilbury refers to being apprehended by the authorities with his megaphone outside the shopping centre, the reference to mundane, modern-day life comes as an anachronistic shock, like glimpsing a pair of Nike trainers in Todd Browning’s Freaks. But ultimately, The Crooked Mile exists in its own universe, both of our world and distinctly other. “You taught me how to sleep and dream,” Tilbury sings, on album closer ‘Make Happy.’ Ah, but what dreams, and what fevered visions have they begot!'
'Birdengine is the working name of Lawry Joseph Tilbury, who records the sort of creepy lo-fi, folky acoustic weirdness that can give grown men nightmares. Tilburys wonderfully atmospheric songs are given even more of an oompah when he marshalls the support of two drummers, as happens on 'Phantom Limb' (think of the Brothers Grimm as told by Gilbert & Sullivan) and the driven, tense and endearing "No Arms And No Friends". But even when he goes at it on his own, like "Music At Court" - a song full of gothic swirls and whirls like a waltz for the dead - the results are unmistakable and unsettling'
'OK, so we’ve been a little slow off the mark this time. We’ve been going through changes, everyone makes mistakes, so on and so forth. The important thing is that, because ‘The Crooked Mile’ is already out, you can go buy it right now. Right now. Right… now. And you should too, because it’s a cracking piece of work from one of the UK’s hidden treasures, Birdengine (AKA Lawry Joseph Tilbury). Ten tracks of beguiling, imaginative marvellousness, this is one artefact from ye old 2011 that’s certainly worth digging up.
Though often lumped in with the folk bracket, Tilbury’s compositions are far removed from the bucolic whimsy that term might conjure up. Not likely to win over the Mumford And Sons/Laura Marling crowd any time soon, Birdengine creates seriously odd and evocative music, both naturalistic and surrealistic, experimental and stripped-back, humane and unearthly. Songs like ‘No Arms And No Friends’ showcase Tilbury’s vocal talents while stringing together strange narratives of longing and loss – this is occasionally macabre and always disturbing stuff, but not in a slick, Tim Burton sense: more like the post-mortem portraits of the 1800’s, sinister and serene in equal measure. Whether alone with an acoustic guitar and minimal accompaniment (as on the, er, haunting double-whammy of ‘Ghost Club’ and ‘Scarecrow And The Longpig’) or backed up by an impressive rhythm section (see the aforementioned ‘No Arms…’ and ‘The Experiments Of Dr. Sarconi'), Mr Tilbury glories in making much from little, and leaves an indelible imprint in whichever part of your brain stores a tune (if any neuroscientists are reading, write in and let us know).
Ultimately, ‘The Crooked Mile’ is a gloriously anachronistic treat for all us freaks, oddballs and depressives, as much redolent of a great Victorian ghost story as any singer-songwriters doing the rounds today. This record comes much recommended for anyone with patience and a willingness to explore some lesser-travelled musical landscapes – it’s not easy to get into by any means but given enough time and concentration, you’ll be amply rewarded. Just make sure you don’t play this too soon before your bedtime, or you’re bound for some pretty ‘interesting’ dreams…'
'From the punky Spanish guitar of opening track 'Phantom Limb', 'The Crooked Mile' is an album seemingly designed to surprise and I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint. The album is a brooding, menacing piece defying pigeonholing by virtue of a variety of genre exercises each one of which executed with flair and sincerity.
Birdengine is Lawry Joseph Tilbury, and, after two successful EPs and a mini-album, 'The Crooked Mile' is his first full-length album. Multi-instrumentalist Tilbury plays almost all of the instruments on the album (the exceptions are 'Phantom Limb', 'The Experiments of Dr Sarconi' and 'No Arms and No Friends' where he has enlisted the assistance of drummers Tom Marsh and Danny Green, and, on 'No Arms and No Friends', where he is assisted by producer David Ringland on electric guitar).
After the up-tempo opening, second track 'I, Dancing Bear' is a pared down polka featuring Tilbury accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and overdubbed harmonies, its fragility emphasizing the general mood of menace prevalent throughout the album. 'No Arms and No Friends' sounds like a semi-acoustic collaboration between Nirvana and the Vaselines while 'Ghost Club', with its toy box introduction and eerie air, could easily be lifted from a Tom Waits or Thomas Truax album.
For me, the highlight of the album is 'Scarecrow and the Longpig', featuring hushed acoustic guitar and ethereal harmonies. It’s a particularly effective and evocative sonic snapshot which I fell in love with instantly. The album closes with 'Make Happy', and, while it is one of the more upbeat tracks, I suspect that the title is being employed somewhat ironically.
I felt that 'The Crooked Mile' had a dream-like quality to it, almost like the music and especially Tilbury’s ominous timbre is leaking through from some surreal netherworld. Tilbury’s vocals are something of an acquired taste and certainly won’t appeal to everyone at the first listen, but the more one listens to his songs, the more one realizes how well-suited his delivery is to the material. Unlike many of today’s musicians, there is a definite Birdengine sound which runs through the material providing an artery of cohesion even when two or more disparate songs are juxtaposed.
This is an unsettling album, but a hugely enjoyable one. More please.'
Penny Black Music
'BIRDENGINE is a mad-folk brainchild of a certain Lawry Joseph Tilbury, with The Crooked Mile being his second LP.
It’s a collection of finely written, disturbing lullabies for the crazy. What lifts it above pretentious gothic obscurity these young ‘avant-folkies’ keep giving us is the great melodic menace of these tunes.
Somehow beneath these creepy, eerie stories about ghosts and losing your mind hides a classic, articulate songwriter with substance and style. It’s all drenched in tasteful acoustic guitars and Tilbury’s distinctive vocals – vulnerable and heartbreaking one moment, confident and powerful the next. The melodies also have a tendency to veer from gentle, moody and slow to almost upbeat (often all that in one song). Some bland, atmospheric moments aside, there’s nothing difficult about this stuff: for instance, the album’s undisputable high point, as well as its most full-blown song, the ominous and terrific No Arms And No Friends, is downright irresistible. Overall, the hooks – bizarre, classic, unpredictable – are in high supply here. A vocal melody, a clever guitar line, some brilliant accordion in the background …
The Crooked Mile is a dark, often unsettling album that’s both odd, and oddly accessible'
'Birdengine is Lawry Joseph Tilbury and The Crooked Mile, his debut album, is just that - a weird, twisted and crooked journey – but one that is an absolute delight to take.
The album has a classic, macabre feel to it that seems embedded in a musical landscape of old, yet somehow there is also something frighteningly contemporary about it, giving it a perplexing sense of place and an often malign and eerie sense of atmosphere. Underneath the surface - ensconced at the root - are essentially folks songs, ones not too out of line with such modern takes on the genre as Timber Timbre or Beirut, yet the strange and idiosyncratic vocal stylings and melodic knack makes this an aural experience that Wild Beasts would be proud to exude.
Opening song ‘Phantom Limb’ has a Spanish playfulness to it that dances around the song's core like a spiralling flamenco dancer. Tilbury croons a deep, baritone tune that almost makes the belly grumble. As the album steps forward through the murky and mystical sense of atmosphere it creates, we dip between tempos and tones, from the quaint, delicate offerings of ‘Dancing Bear’ and ‘Ghost Club’ to the grandiloquent ‘No Arms and No Friends’ which has a searing chorus not too distant from the chorus kings Arcade Fire.
The album's pinnacle lies in the dastardly ‘The Experiments of Dr Sarconi’ which, while not only being the album’s finest sonic moment through its gorgeous structure and irresistible melody, boasts the album’s greatest vocal performance - at times feeling otherworldly. The opening lines are strained and pushed, twisting themselves round a seethed tongue, and they soon mutate into an almost operatic delivery that gives the song a charming sense of variation and experimentation.
While the album seems destined to remain nothing more than a cult creation, loved and adored by a select few. The truth is that there is more than enough here both in terms of genuine worth and commercial appeal to make Birdengine a far more familiar site in people’s record collections. This is a debut album as beautiful as it is ghostly, traditional in sense and structure yet completely unique in ideas and delivery - plus, Tilbury has perhaps the most delightfully weird voice you’ll hear all year.'
Kicking Against The Pricks
'Birdengine is the name that one Lawry Joseph Tilbury works under. Having previously released two EPs for the highly regarded (and now defunct) Scottish label Benbecula, he now releases his debut album on Bleeding Heart Recordings.
It’s now mid-October, and at this point in the year, I’ve heard getting onto three hundred new releases this year. And let me say, that with all sincerity, this is up there in the top 5 of the best I have heard this year.
Tilbury’s style is, right from the first listen, conducive to producing an album which is dark, exploratory and intriguing, right from the off. Puzzled by the first two tracks on the first play, by the third ‘No Arms and No Friends’ I was getting swept into it. By the end of the album, I had to go back and play it a couple more times because it had bewitched me, in the best possible sense.
Blessed with a strangely soothing bass-baritone voice, this debut might well come under the ‘freak folktronica’ if that’s the label you want to bandy about. Personally, it’s just great to hear a record that’s acoustic fight off cliché and produce something that genuinely stands alone.
Get your hands on a copy of this album. Because I won’t be letting go of my copy. And you won’t want to lose your copy either, if you have any sense.'
Birdengine is the musical project of Lawry Joseph Tilbury, whose unique music has been described by The Independent as 'beautiful, backwards weirdness' and by WARP Records as “an unknown supernatural force".