It's probably no coincidence that Birds & Batteries' fourth studio album dropped at the height of summer, but it's still a stroke of genius, especially for a San Francisco band: This is a record made of sun and fog in the same proportion, of bright Eighties hooks and chilly synths, poppier than the band's previous albums but still steeped in that strange cocktail of classic Americana and metallic electro, perfect for a winding drive along the coast or a drizzly barbecue.
It's a hard line to toe, this dynamic, and it doesn't always work on Stray Light, but when it does, it really, really does: Third track "Love Is Coming Back" is a dizzy, drifting, spellbinding love song that starts with a chorus of handclaps and a doleful, drawn-out synth line, slowly layers in Mike Sempert's sweetly understated vocals, and then glides gracefully into a sparkling, jubilant, chillwave-meets-marching band climax before ending way, way sooner than you want it to; when Sempert promises, a couple lines in, that the best things haven't happened yet, you know he's right.
The rest of the album doesn't quite master this balance, this push-pull between folksy sentiment and inhuman instrumentation, and the second half of the record delves a bit too far into bleepy-blurpy melancholy and sterile, flat, indistinguishable electronic to be as enjoyable as the first. But man! "Love Is Coming Back"! This is a song you'll keep coming back to over and over again, all fleeting and perfect and pure — a lot, in fact, like summer itself. (Eightmaps)