Six years ain’t a hell of a lot of time, but Futurebirds have filled ‘em with a whole lot of living. Laying down their shoe-gazing country, harmonious psychedelia, and barnstorming, ragged rock both on record and in person, the Athens-based band presents a delicate balance on Hotel Parties, its third full-length record that explores the toils, joys, and struggles exposed by six years doing any one thing so intensely.
Back in 2010, Thomas Johnson, Carter King, Dennis Love, Johnny Lundock, Brannen Miles, and Daniel Womack, emerged with a self-released EP that granted them entry to the kingdom of South by Southwest. That year also saw the birth of their debut LP, Hampton’s Lullaby (released on Aquarium Drunkard’s label Autumn Tone), which label boss Justin Gage called “covered in kudzu and swathed in a blanket of humidity, Spanish moss, feedback and reverb.”
Shortly thereafter, the gigs at University of Georgia house parties grew into tours across the country with Drive-By Truckers, Widespread Panic, Grace Potter, and others. The 2011 EP Via Flaminia and 2012 live record Seney-Stovall then coalesced into 2013’s Baba Yaga, Futurebirds’ second full-length. As Steven Hyden of Pitchfork proclaimed, “the controlled chaos of Futurebirds’ live shows translates on [Baba Yaga] like never before. You feel the energy, forgive any flubbed notes, and soak in the past-midnight revelry.”
But Hotel Parties, arriving a full two years after Baba Yaga, presents a series of dualities. Loving something and letting it go. Pining for success versus trying to staying true to yourself. The beckoning call of the road and the comforts of home. As a result, says singer-guitartist King, the LP represents Futurebirds’ “most concise effort to date all around, like some sort of accidental concept record.”
On album opener “Paranoia Letters,” King sings, “There’s a stranger growing less strange every time I go out.” But it is not King who is saying these words. Rather, his girlfriend back home in Nashville is calling out to him, detailing the toll that the last six years has taken on them. Both the lyrics and harmonies swirl like mist around Futurebirds as King’s lover asks, "ain't ya lagging from all that dragging of a life you've made in song?”
It’s this same fear, of how life on the road affects you, that Johnson addresses in title track “Hotel Parties.” In this world, “cars don’t pass like ships sailing in the night,” he muses, and the line between downtime and performing is so blurred as to render one permanently "on."
Later, Daniel Womack confronts the struggles of loneliness and regaining his sense of purpose in “Rodeo.” His graveled voice stretches over every hole he digs and every effort he takes to climb out of them, proclaiming, “I’ll be damned if I ain’t gonna grab the bull by the horns.”
While King, Johnson, and Womack share songwriting credits, the full band’s collective effort makes Hotel Parties sound both weathered and evocatively fresh. Miles’ bass serves as the barometer for the band’s energy. Love’s mastery of the pedal steel serve as both wallpaper and framed art—filling out the sound of a bridge or a slow-burning solo across any track. And Lundock (having joined the group in 2013 with the departure of founding member Payton Bradford for a legal career) leads Futurebirds with malleable drum styles, utilizing sparse, delicate touches as precisely as three-quarter-timed waltzes and head-banging thrashes for when the band climbs and crawls over each another in a race to the end of the 51 minute-long record.
With Brian Paulson (Slint, Wilco, Son Volt) behind the knobs to mix Hotel Parties, Futurebirds allows a new voice into its circle of trust. According to King, Paulson “brought out a lot of different focal points and layering ideas that we hadn't necessarily heard in these songs. Brian's track record speaks very loudly for itself, and we think he did a great job getting us out of our comfort zone.”
That comfort zone has been born from lives lived together over the past six years—of confiding in those with whom you’re closest, not the legions of friends and fans dispersed across the country for one-night tell-all’s.
It’s not been an easy path for Futurebirds. Rather, it’s been an uphill climb where every step must be taken. There’s no elevator to swoop you up a level, no guidebook for these parts.
Over the course of these three LPs, two EPs, and one live record, people have come and gone, yet, Futurebirds seems to stay. Some things came out as they liked and some pills have been bitter. But sometimes, six years just ain’t enough time to tell.