Harmonic Convergence

The Bird and the Bee's cinematic pop

Inara George seems touched that the audience was singing along during her band's showcase at industry schmoozefest SXSW. "It was late, though," she says by phone early the next morning. "People were yawning, too."

Blame the yawns on too many free shots of SoCo Lime and a 1 a.m. set time, because, as insiders have been quick to notice, there's nothing boring about the Bird and the Bee.

What started off as a side project between two veterans of the Los Angeles music scene — George left girl-pop duo Merrick for a solo career; partner Greg Kurstin founded Geggy Tah and recorded with Beck and the Flaming Lips — has fast become a standalone sensation. In just a few months the duo's racked up positive press, a record deal, and an opening tour slot with sassy-frassy Lily Allen.

The two met while working on George's 2005 solo record, All Rise, and discovered a shared affection for jazz standards, which they'd play together after rehearsals. Those sessions evolved until the pair had an album's worth of lounge-y, Tropicália-tinged originals. The disc caught the attention of Metro Blue, which released the self-titled record in January. The record is full of cocktail party indie-pop that layers George's breathy vocals over Kurstin's swingin' '60s beats, disco synths, and rococo harpsichords. If the Sinatras and the Jetsons vacationed in Rio, this just might be the soundtrack.

"There's a certain period of film in the '60s that, if you listen to the scores, you might find some similarities," George says of their sonic aesthetic. "It's very cool, laid-back, dramatic music. We have this friend who collects scores from that period."

Kurstin cites the original Thomas Crown Affair and Two for the Road as influences for TBATB. The cinematic feel is no surprise, considering the songwriters have a knack for making music that pairs well with visual drama (he helped score Grace of My Heart, among other movies, and her apartment is likely mighty cluttered with all those licensing checks from Grey's Anatomy).

While TBATB is instrumentally similar to George's solo stuff, she says it's less lyrically personal. Emotional sincerity comes through, though, in frustrated lines like Would you ever be my fucking boyfriend?, the refrain from the band's surprise dance-club hit, "Fucking Boyfriend." Another track, "I Hate Camera," obliquely skewers the L.A. scene, while some songs are more ... abstract. Like "La La La," a swirly, psychedelic cross between "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and A Clockwork Orange that includes the lines We have loaded up your eyes and fed you tangerines/ if you open your box you will find a tight machine.

Kurstin seems content to let George be the voice while he buzzes about playing almost every instrument on the album. "[In] the best collaborations I've experienced, you find roles in the relationship," says George, who contrasts this setup with Merrick, where Bryony Atkinson was the lyricist while she handled the music. "If you really define the roles, it makes you more confident in the thing that you're doing."

The pairing seems to be working, and fans are taking note. A string of North American tour dates is filling the band's dance card, leaving the members' individual careers temporarily back-burnered (though George's new "off-kilter" solo record is partially in the can.)

"I haven't done much of other things since we've been so busy," Kurstin says of riding this new tide of attention. "It kind of just happened to us. It's interesting when things happen that you didn't expect. People seem enthusiastic, and we're just going with it."

Minus the occasional yawning show-goer, of course.

 
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