Blog Project #2-'Under Your Spell' By The Birthday Massacre
Topic #4 -- Media Product Review
I chose to do a review of the album ‘Under Your Spell’ by the band The Birthday Massacre. I chose it because it just came out (on June 9th), they crowd-sourced the funding for the album (which I thought was an interesting distinction), and simply because I’m a fan of the band and really love their music.
Here's a video of the band performing the title track 'Under Your Spell' live:
‘Under Your Spell’ is The Birthday Massacre’s 7th studio album and was funded by PledgeMusic, an online platform allowing fans to fund or pre-order artists directly. They also used PledgeMusic to fund their 2011 album ‘Superstition’.’The PledgeMusic goal was opened on June 4th, 2016 and was reached later that day. According to the PledgeMusic page for the album, 232% of the original goal was funded total. ‘Under Your Spell’ debuted at the number 7 spot on Billboard’s Independent chart.
The Birthday Massacre is a Canadian band, originally based in London, ON but currently based in Toronto. The band, originally named Imagica, formed in 1999 when members Rainbow and Chibi met in college and started collaborating musically, with Rainbow’s childhood friend Falcore joining. Other members joined (and some left) and the current band lineup is Chibi (lead vocals), Rainbow (rhythm guitar), Falcore (lead guitar), Rhim (drums), Owen (keyboard), and Nate Manor (bass). As you might gather, most of the band members use pseudonyms or mononyms as opposed to their birth names.
The Birthday Massacre’s musical style is usually labeled as Goth rock, Darkwave, or Electronica (on their YouTube channel, they label themselves as a “synthrock band”).
The band has used the Internet to get in touch with their fans and distribute their music since the beginning and their use of the new crowdsourcing platforms the Internet offers shows that they are still utilizing it as it evolves.
The Birthday Massacre hasn’t found much mainstream success, but they are well-known in the Goth subculture and have a devoted cult following.
The band and the band's logo-The Bunny.
In a way, ‘Under Your Spell’ is very similar in style to their previous albums, it’s retained the ‘dreamy’ synth-driven sound and dark lyrics typical of The Birthday Massacre. The title track ‘Under Your Spell’ would have fit right in on one of their previous albums, such as 2004’s ‘Violet’ or 2010’s ‘Pins and Needles’.
Conversely, overall as an album ‘Under Your Spell’ is less ‘hard’ and has less of the metal influence that has colored most of The Birthday Massacre’s music.
Chibi also displays a lot less of her usual vocal range and only one song ‘No Tomorrow’ utilizes her trademark growl.
Like most Darkwave ‘Under Your Spell’ (and indeed, everything by The Birthday Massacre) the heavy use of synthesizers and slick production is common, as is the dark, sometimes morbid lyrics. VNV Nation’s music is very much alike The Birthday Massacre’s in this way. However, The Birthday Massacre has always stood out from other artists in the genre with their focus on the line between the cute and the creepy, the innocent and the horrific. As Chibi said about the band’s name: “It kind of works well for the music that we're making. Sort of contrasty, you know? Birthday, and massacre. Light, and dark. Cute, and evil.”
While I absolutely love this band and their music, including this album, and would argue that most art is culturally important, I would say that it doesn’t exactly “matter” in the grander sense of the word. Will I listen to these songs while I create my own art, or to help me fall asleep, or to lift my mood on a bad day? Absolutely. So, to me, this band and album, like many others, is important. But not necessarily to society as a whole.
I don’t know if it necessarily reflects a trend. Certainly myself and many of my friends who have ‘goth inclinations’ are big fans of this music but Goths are a multi-generational subculture at this point and aren’t really anything new.
As far as target audience is concerned, the band themselves shy away from the ‘goth’ label as they feel that limits the audience that might enjoy them. However, I’ve never heard The Birthday Massacre played in a club that DIDN’T cater to the gothic subculture and in my social network, the Venn diagram of ‘people who are fans of The Birthday Massacre’ and ‘people who are goth (at least on the weekends)’ is just a big circle. J
Stereotypes and offensive messages are avoided in this album, largely because the songs are mostly about feelings like loss and betrayal. While there’s a lot of flowery imagery, most of the songs are about a love that’s gone bad, or a relationship that wasn’t as fulfilling as hoped.
The main strength of ‘Under Your Spell’ is that it shows the band in good form, they haven’t lost what makes them interesting, enjoyable artists. The tracks ‘Under Your Spell’ and ‘All Of Nothing’ are beautiful and heartfelt, and make me wish I lived closer to my old club so I could dance with my friends to them.
A weakness of the album is the lack of range or variety between songs I mentioned earlier. The album is slightly less dynamic than their earlier works and I would argue that the best tracks on this album aren’t as good as the best tracks off their previous ones.
I still personally think this is a good album, just not as great as, say ‘Violet’ or 2013’s ‘Superstition.’
I think, at least for fans of the band and people in the subculture, the songs on this album will have a fairly long life (I mean, we’re still playing ‘Blue’ by them in clubs and that song is 13 years old). It might not be the best by the band but it’s still The Birthday Massacre and this album shows that that still means something.
That’s my take, what do the professionals say? (please note that due to the band’s more “underground” status, the album was mostly reviewed by subculture publications)
David Oberlin for Soundscape gives the album a 10 out of 10 and says:
“The seventh album Under Your Spell is everything a [The] Birthday Massacre album should be and delivers a highly polished and exuberant record teeming with personality.”
“The synth sounds spread from saccharine to struggling and their expression is wondrous. When these voices intertwine with the natural and honest voice of Chibi it becomes more than music, it becomes its own dimension of love, heartbreak, honesty and death. The Birthday Massacres’ seventh album is a redeployment of all the parts which make them stand out and above the rest.”
William Nesbitt for Brutal Resonance seems to feel the same way I did about the album, giving it a 6.5 out of 10 and saying:
“One of the drawbacks of putting out a string of great albums is that if the next one isn’t as good, it may appear weaker than it actually is. There aren’t any tracks on Under Your Spell that are horrible, but neither are there any that really stand out other than album-opener 'One.'[…] The title track 'Under Your Spell' is solid, but I am still waiting for a track that explodes. ”
“The album never lets loose, goes sky high, or cuts bone deep. There is nothing as moving as 'In This Moment,' as thrashy as 'Happy Birthday,' or as driving as 'Leaving Tonight.'”
I definitely agree most with Nesbitt’s take-I don’t think there’s a single bad song on the album but I know the band is capable of a bit more than they achieve here.
The Birthday Massacre’s Facebook page has 264,322 ‘likes’ and 248,709 followers. People are mostly complimenting the band on the new album and entreating them to come to their hometowns on the latest tour.
I’m lucky to have Amazon Prime Music, and the band’s entire discography is on there, and I’ve been working my way through all of the albums for a couple of weeks now. I would definitely buy any more albums they put out and I’d love to see them live.
Many of my friends have been urging me to listen to The Birthday Massacre for years and years and I can definitely see why so many conversations about music have ended with “But you HAVE to check out The Birthday Massacre!”
One thing I’ve learned lately, on a personal note, is how many songs I grooved to at my old haunt Vertex in Rochester, NY were [The] Birthday Massacre songs. That was a little eye-opening. Another thing I learned doing this project is how much the band has utilized the Internet since the early 2000s and continues to utilize it.
My favorite song off of 'Under Your Spell'-'All Of Nothing'
If you've heard one song by The Birthday Massacre, it's probably 'Blue'...for good reason. (note: there is ONE vocalist on this song-it's all Chibi)
One of my absolute favorite songs by the band, Surrender (off of 'Superstition')