The Bird And The Bee
The Bird and the Bee emerged from their retro nest in 2006, flaunting a sort of contemporary space-age pop that relied on Inara George's voice -- a jazzy, soft soprano in the vein of Norah Jones and Priscilla Ahn -- and Greg Kurstin's production chops. The combination celebrated outmoded genres without losing a modern edge, and The Bird and the Bee scored a chart-topping club single ("Fucking Boyfriend") while simultaneously courting the NPR crowd. Several years later, The Bird and the Bee take a grounded approach to their sophomore effort, Ray Guns are Not Just the Future, which sports nary a club single (much less an expletive-filled song title). This is pure NPR music, all neo-jazz melodies and martini-lounge flourishes without the sly bite of its predecessor. George is still a cunning vocalist, pledging her evergreen love to David Lee Roth on "Diamond Dave" and courteously seducing her listener on "Polite Dance Song" ("I try to be as coy as I can, but I want to see your naughty bit"), yet her melodies remain reliant on Kurstin's orchestrations, which sound considerably more relaxed this time around. He churns out retro-minded backdrops like a hipster Burt Bacharach, veering between elegant orchestration and dancefloor percussion (with an emphasis on the former), and his productions are striking in spite of the band's general rallentando. Nonetheless, it's hard to shake the notion that he gave his best hooks to Lily Allen, whose own sophomore album (featuring Kurstin's production and co-writing credits) was released two weeks after Ray Guns. Those in the market for fast songs will find a few here, most notably "Love Letter to Japan" and "Meteor," but the album's true gems are its slightly slower numbers: the elegiac "My Love," "Birthday," "Polite Dance Song," and the stringed splendor of "Baby."