Acclaimed Brooklyn artist Bird Streets has returned with Lagoon (Sparkle Plenty/Deko), an album about separation, rumination, regret, and recurrence, that travels the darker passages of the heart and mind in search of something resembling clarity. For his second album under the Bird Streets name, John Brodeur has widely expanded on the project’s collaborative foundation, enlisting production by Patrick Sansone (Wilco), Michael Lockwood (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple), and Zach Jones (Sting) and Oscar Albis Rodriguez (A Great Big World), plus guest appearances from the likes of Aimee Mann, Ed Harcourt, John Davis (Superdrag), Jody Stephens(Big Star), and an array of top-shelf session players. With mixing split between Sansone and Grammy winner Michael Brauer (Coldplay, John Mayer), and mastering by Grammy nominee Pete Lyman (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton), Lagoon is an enormous step forward sonically, while musically it’s a tour de force from an artist who has been hailed for his evocative storytelling and keen attention to craft.
Bird Streets was first conceived as Brodeur’s return to a band format after a lengthy stint as a solo artist. The new point of view proved to be artistically freeing, moving Brodeur to officially adopt the moniker as his nom de guerre with the release of a self-titled 2018 LP on Omnivore Recordings. That album, produced by indie-pop hero Jason Falkner (Beck, St. Vincent, Daniel Johnston), was a refreshing blast of classic-yet-modern melodic rock that received accolades from PopMatters (“a rock solid power-pop gem”), The Deli (“timeless and honest”), and NPR Music, which named Bird Streets a Slingshot Artist alongside then-emerging talents like Phoebe Bridgers and Cautious Clay. Singles “Betting on the Sun” and “Direction” received nationwide airplay; the music video for “Direction” racked up thousands of views; tours with iconic indie rocker Juliana Hatfield and pop-folk artist Alana Davis followed, as did a groovy non-album single, “Come On.”
For Lagoon, Brodeur collected tracks over a series of dates in Tennessee and New York and eventually California, building an arsenal of more than 20 new recordings before deciding on the 12 that would comprise the album.
“It took a while to figure out what I was trying to say,” he says. “My marriage was ending as the first album was coming out. It was an incredibly complicated and emotional time, and a lot of songs came as I worked through those feelings.”
Indeed there is a perspective in the lyrics of “Unkind” and “Go Free” that could only come with the passage of time. But Lagoon is more introspective than the average “divorce record,” evident from its opening line: “I gotta tell you, I’m kind of a mess” (“Sleeper Agent”). On “Machine,” the singer is haunted by the specter of someone lost to him, declaring “This is not a victory.” That line is repeated in the context of a different specter on the cathartic alt-rocker “Ambulance.” Addiction, shame and depression are met with crucial honesty on songs like “Disappearing Act” (“I’m neither the man I wanted to be nor the man I thought I was”) and the brooding “Burnout” (“Nothing gets me high”).
This is a record about dealing with change, how time doesn’t truly heal all wounds, and the lies we tell ourselves to deal with our shortcomings. Throughout Lagoon, Brodeur lays himself bare in some of the most vulnerable moments of his career. The lyrics and melodies are supported here by a wider sonic palette than any of the artist’s previous works, as pedal steel guitar, woodwinds, sitar, and strings all take co-starring roles alongside the guitars and keyboards that anchor the songs.
Producer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Sansone helmed sessions in Nashville (“Burnout,” “Leave No Trace,” the bossa-flavored “The Document”) and later in Memphis, where the Brodeur and Sansone were joined by John Davis on guitar and Jody Stephens on drums, forming a power-pop fantasy band of sorts. (“Machine,” “Go Free,” and wistful “SF 1993” come from the Memphis dates.) Back in Brooklyn, Brodeur cut several tracks with the production team of Zach Jones and Oscar Albis Rodriguez, including “Ambulance,” the catchy AM Gold of “Let You Down,” and the Last Waltz-styled soul-rock of “Disappearing Act.”
When the pandemic threw a wrench in the works, Brodeur turned to Los Angeles-based producer Michael Lockwood to remotely helm Lagoon’s final stretch. “I sent Michael a vocal and a guitar track to flesh out and he started passing it around to all these artists that I just adore,” says Brodeur. Lockwood enlisted Aimee Mann and Buddy Judge (The Grays) to lend bass and vocals, respectively, to “Unkind,” while UK artist Ed Harcourt proved to be an invaluable foil on “Sleeper Agent,” offering up not only the Elton-esque piano part at the heart of the song, but bass guitar and harmonies as well. Patrick Warren (Michael Penn, Tom Waits, Lana Del Rey) added string compositions that serve as stirring counterparts to Brodeur’s vocals, nowhere more so than on the fragile acoustic ballad “On Fire.”
The caliber of talent that turned up to support Brodeur on Lagoon is a strong endorsement of the quality of the material. With a verifiable dream team on the roster and a body of work this strong, one can only imagine that Bird Streets is heading for the same cult status as some of the artists named here.