Can English Americana exist? There’s an immediate disconnect in the very notion. The idea of a British singer keying into the distinctly rustic old-timey ideals and emotions of corner stores, backwater moonshine, and folk tales of dire wolves and devil-entrusted crossroads is at best a curiosity, and at worst cause for a jingoistic defence of national identity for those who hold it close to their hearts. The phrase “we don’t take kindly to your kind” comes to mind, complete with a distinctive drawl.
Jade Bird, the 23-year-old English singer-songwriter, has been humorously pinned with the ‘Americana’ tag ever since her first EP. Just to lean into the connection, she called that release Something American. Maybe ‘indie folk’ or ‘alt-country’ are more appropriate genres to place the young artist in, but especially through nominations from the Americana Music Honors & Awards, the ‘Americana’ designation has persisted. Hopefully, that’s all in the past now, because Bird’s latest release, her second full-length LP, Different Kinds of Light, is an obvious left turn into more muscular and fully-realised rock and roll.
The opening collage of sounds, ‘DKOL’, primes you for something decidedly different from Bird’s folky acoustic work of the past. The following track, ‘Open Up the Heavens’, has a drive far more indebted to traditional rock and roll than her previous material’s languid country or gentle folk.
There’s plenty of classic Bird on Different Kinds of Light. The title track, for instance, has an unhurried push and pull that highlights the uncertainty of the future featured in the lyrics. But the following number, ‘Trick Mirror’, has a distinctive alt-rock feeling to it. Alt-rock and, dare I say, pop music as well.
Songs like ‘I’m Getting Lost’, ‘Candidate’, and ‘Honeymoon’ are jaunty romps that are the furthest possible thing from acoustic sing-alongs by the fireside. If that’s your main draw to Bird, then never fear: ‘Houdini’ and ‘Prototype’ are still here to acknowledge that she’s not entirely abandoning her past sound, but what Different Kinds of Light as a whole makes it clear that Bird progressing out of the misnomer of ‘Americana’.
Her most fascinating grappling with this dichotomy of American-based influence and internal British identity is ‘Red, White and Blue’. “You think of your life/That you didn’t choose/It chose you/The red white and blue,” she sings. Whether it’s a story song devoid of personal connection or a commentary on Bird’s personal grapple with the kind of person she’s become, the song emanates a message that says you’re more than the labels that are attached to you, whether you accurately fit them or not.
As ever, Bird’s vocal work is sterling and stirring. Her compositional and lyric writing abilities haven’t faltered as she seeks new sounds. It’s a progression in the best possible way: a clear path forward without getting rid of the parts of your past that brought you to where you are now. Bird might not be getting any Americana awards for Different Kind of Light, but that doesn’t matter because she was never playing ‘Americana’ anyway. Different Kind of Light simply proves it.