“Don’t we all arrive at the same place where we began?”
This one repeated line opens and closes DIVISI, the long-awaited fourth album by A Lot Like Birds, and also acts a statement of purpose for the record as a whole. Nearly four years after releasing the acclaimed No Place, which added an enhanced sense of melancholy and haunting ambiance to the band’s chaotic post-hardcore blend, A Lot Like Birds returns changed in many ways. And DIVISI is the perfect representation of the current state of the band, simultaneously displaying a dramatic stylistic leap and an introduction to group’s new lineup, while also feeling like a largely natural progression from their previous work. Most impressively, A Lot Like Birds successfully juggles these various objectives without skipping a beat, not only justifying their continued existence as a group, but pushing forward to create arguably their most cohesive and complete work to date.
Following singer Kurt Travis’ departure from A Lot Like Birds last year, much of the band’s fanbase became concerned about potential shifts in their sound. Rumors abounded that unclean vocalist Cory Lockwood was taking vocal lessons to move entirely from screams to singing, and that the band was moving dramatically into the mellower sonic space occupied by guitarist/main composer Michael Franzino’s side project alone. While both these rumors ended up being accurate to varying degrees, describing DIVISI simply on those terms is both a dramatic oversimplification, and a disservice to the work the band has created. While the album indeed features almost entirely clean vocals, and the 12 tracks on display here tone down the frantic fury of their previous albums in favor of tighter songwriting and hooks, this is far from a detriment. Rather, the band seems to take the most emotionally charged elements of No Place, and expand them outward into an album full of soaring, passionate vocals and haunting guitar melodies.
Additionally, DIVISI displays a wide sonic range that was not present to the same degree on alone.’s debut album Somewhere in the Sierras. Despite A Lot Like Birds’ newfound sense of restraint, there are still a plethora of hard-hitting instrumental moments on display, particularly in the album’s final four-song stretch. “Further Below” brilliantly showcases the talents of the band’s newest addition, bassist/vocalist Matt Coate, as the track fades in to a furious bass line and gripping multi-tracked vocal harmonies. “Good Soil, Bad Seeds” contains one of the most funky, addicting riffs Franzino has composed to date, serving as a perfect launching pad for Cory Lockwood’s distorted vocals.
Lockwood himself provides what is almost certainly the most impressive, and unexpected, performance on DIVISI. Always a standout among screamed vocalists in the post-hardcore scene for his contemplative, intricate lyricism, moving to clean vocals allows Lockwood to display a substantially wider emotional range, and take his rightful place as the band’s primary frontman. “Divisi” is defined as “a musical direction indicating that a section of players should be divided into two or more groups, each playing a different part”, and Lockwood’s lyrics on the album touch upon the recurring theme of separation in myriad ways. Lead single “For Shelley (Unheard)” is a moving tribute to Lockwood’s mother, who acted as the bedrock of his stability and optimism, before succumbing to illness last year. “Trace The Lines” is a musing on the pains of getting over an ex-lover who Lockwood still sees “in all the windows, outlining every street”. And closing track “Divisi” ties together the album’s themes of the impermanence of life and human connection in a stirring sendoff. Opening with Lockwood utilizing both spoken-word and screams, the track builds to a sung climax containing some of the frontman’s most passionate vocals to date: “We were made to be unmade/Tied with strings designed to fray/I just want our knot together/It’s holding now, but not forever”.
The track’s final fadeout, returning to the same musical motif and lyric as opener “Always Burning, Always Dark”, sends a powerful message. The band seems to be instructing the listener to cherish every moment of our fleeting existence, before we all inevitably return to the nothingness from which we were formed. It is a powerful statement of purpose, one that bookends an album as meticulously crafted and toiled over as anything A Lot Like Birds has created to date. While many bands who struggle through major lineup changes, stylistic departures, and vocalists changing their delivery in dramatic ways suffer from “growing pains” and early stumbles, DIVISI feels like the sound of a band that took its many changes in stride, executing its new vision with masterful grace and depth. Far from being on the verge of irrelevance, the story of A Lot Like Birds is in fact only beginning.