There are female vocalists and then there are female vocalists. The frontwomen of Railbird and Heather Christian & The Arbornauts both fall into the second category, stealing the stage with voices that leave listeners searching for comparisons and indefinitely coming up short.
On Wednesday evening, New York’s tiny Mercury Lounge welcomed a tinier crowd to its dimly lit venue. Each night this Bowery stage hosts up-and-coming artists, from singer-songwriters to math-rock bands to oddball electronic musicias.
Railbird are a delightful mix of all three. The Brooklyn-based quintet, fronted by Sarah Pedinotti, opened with a lilting jam entitled “Hushaby.” The 15 person-strong audience couldn’t peel its eyes from Pedinotti as she eased her voice into a whisper before rushing over the song’s uptempo sections. From there, the band moved through a set of carefully-crafted new songs including “Hollywood” and “Walls” that kept all ears on Pedinotti’s wistful songwriting.
Self-described experimental pop, Railbird’s guitar parts sound like a chilled-out Battles while Pedinotti’s vocals recall Bjork’s charming acrobatics and the occasional urgency of Ashok-era Florence Welch. The band’s setup included a standard two guitars, bass and drums, plus an additional floor tom and snare played by a second drummer. The extra half a drum kit added a delightful depth and necessary variety to Railbird’s set which sometimes floundered in a stream of samey song tempos and inactive basslines.
Railbird’s strength lies in Pedinotti’s vocals, heightened live by the use of a sampler pad that replayed lush pre-prepared harmonies. Considering the second drummer, this only served to heighten the band’s Poliça vibes. The standout track of the night was their penultimate song, “Jump Ship,” a new single featuring Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel (a part performed live by one of their guitarists.) Railbird induce head nods and shivers, but only the good kind.
You know you’re in for a treat when an accordion player takes to the stage. Heather Christian & The Arbornauts, an all-male rockabilly band fronted by the diminutive Christian, took the room to a world of barn dances and corn fields, as Christian screeched and crooned through songs detailing love trials and the loss of all worldly possessions (that particular ditty written just before Christian’s house burned down.) This motley bunch reek of the South in the best possible way, from Christian’s impish charm to the band’s darling onstage banter.
The crowd may have been small, but the voices certainly were not. As Railbird work on recording their latest tracks, here’s hoping their upcoming EP captures the delicate magic of their live show. They are certainly ones to watch.
Railbird- Hushaby (download)