Few bands can say they were born out of necessity, but Slaughter Beach, Dog can. In 2015, Jake Ewald, in the midst of trying to write songs for his other band Modern Baseball (which has since gone on hiatus), hit a patch of writer’s block. To get himself back in action, Ewald decided to move the focus off of himself, stitching together a loose narrative surrounding a motley cast of characters. Before he knew it, he’d written an entire album, and Slaughter Beach, Dog was no longer an exercise, it was a full-fledged band.
“When I gave myself the specific goal to write these kinds of songs and figure out how to do it, it just broke me open in a way I really needed.” What came pouring out of Ewald was Welcome, a 10-track debut that showed his ability to create a world of his own making, all the while blurring the line between fiction and reality. At times, he’d be singing about people and situations he invented, but the songs were still personal, often informed by experiences deep in his past, excavated for the purpose of expanding his songwriting vocabulary.
Slaughter Beach, Dog’s new album Birdie (October 27 on Lame-O Records) expands upon the framework Ewald built on Welcome and the recent EP Motorcycle .jpg, retaining the hallmarks of Slaughter Beach, Dog while pushing into brave new territories A single listen to Birdie shows how much Ewald has grown as a songwriter, embellishing every detail in his songs without losing his homespun charms.
Where Welcome felt based in rock’s grand tradition, Birdie is at once more expansive and more intimate. Songs ebb and flow in the way of The Weakerthans, still rocking, but in a more scholarly way. “I took [Motorcycle .jpg] as an opportunity to get a little bit weirder than usual,” said Ewald, and it’s clear that the EP was a signpost for where he’d be taking Slaughter Beach, Dog on Birdie. “Gold And Green” sees Ewald skirt the lines between half a dozen genres, creating a song that’s able to mine vintage genres like folk and country in order to make something contemporary. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Ewald spins a narrative flush with details, boasting lyrics that are, depending on your reading, either wildly impressionistic and or plain as day.
Ewald plays into this ambiguity expertly, offering songs that use a lilting bounce to obscure the darkness of the world he’s building. “Fish Fry” is a prime example, utilizing a simple backbeat, a chugging guitar riff, and a ruminative vocal melody, the song allows Ewald to toss out references to his past work for those paying close attention. Much like on Motorcycle .jpg’s “Building The Ark,” Ewald once again finds himself dreaming of a convenience store, inviting fans to dig into his lyrics to unfurl every subplot running beneath his gooey melodies. Similarly, “Acolyte” closes the record but simultaneously opens a door, showing Ewald at his most introspectively ambitious. The song sprawls out, expanding slowly and deliberately, completing Birdie’s arch without providing any definitive answers.
Though Slaughter Beach, Dog may have started as a project for Ewald to get past a mental block, it’s grown into something more. Under this moniker Ewald has built a rich, vibrant world, one that invites thoughtful analysis from fans, and continues to expand past its initial intent. Birdie is bountiful in its scope, with songs that pile on layers of instruments and suck you into the world of Slaughter Beach, Dog. And once you’re there, you never want to leave.