Talk about regeneration. On May 2, at a Back Booth—hosted battle of the bands, I was told that one of Orlando's best all-around bands, Summerbirds in the Cellar, had broken up. For years, the Summerbirds stood as one of the most complete indie-rock acts around, equally adept at studio polish and blistering live shows that were so honed and ready for large venues that they opened for R.E.M. at SXSW. This city has always boasted a deep roster of potential heirs to their throne, but none displayed the kind of bigger-than-life presence needed to fill their shoes.
As if on cue later that night, the eventual winners of the months-long round of battles, Mirror Pal, took the stage and shoehorned their way into Tyson Bodiford and company's sneakers. Fronted by Drew Yardis, who steers his stentorian quiver expertly through the choppy fervor of Mirror Pal's reverb-heavy weightlessness, the band performed with the gravitas of natural-born rock stars. It was an unexpected twist in their relatively short history and left me slack-jawed — a feeling that remains after having experienced their debut LP, We Are.
As the title suggests, the album is a statement of identity; Mirror Pal's intermittent demo tracks over the last couple of years have swung wildly from trip-hop to twee pop to everything in between. They've landed on a room-filling kind of atmospheric rock that incorporates everything they've been toying with and takes it for a long walk.
We Are's opening track, "What About Plan B?," is the rocker with breathing room that their tightly produced live show has always begged for. Yardis sets his Jeff Buckley yowl on a rocket ship toward outer space and the results are both rousing and chill-inducing. "Shoes and Socks" and "Caught in the Trees" settle comfortably into a rainy-day groove that transitions nicely into the album's halfway milestone: an overblown orchestral break with the appropriately pretentious title "Spectrum/Pulse/Patterns: A Message from Andromeda." If the band at the reins were any less eccentric, the instrumental would come off as self-indulgent and doom the album. Mirror Pal's spaced-out sound often demands an obsessive control over mood, and it's a credit to the band that they're bold enough to maintain it.
We Are's second half slows to an introspective crawl that remains just as fascinating as the rollicking first half. Songs like "The Night the Stars Counted Us" and album closer "The Itch" riff with a swishing melodic sensibility and commanding contributions from the excellent musicians behind Yardis. The band misses a golden opportunity, though, on the more stripped-down experiments "Can You Try?" and "Watch This." These are a couple of fantastic, straightforward rock compositions that require an equally raw Yardis, but the production never eases off the layers of effects on his voice. There are times to strap yourself to that rocket ship and times to let yourself fall to the Earth, and if there's room for improvement anywhere on We Are, it's in developing that free-falling courage.
As a whole, however, We Are announces Mirror Pal as a force to be reckoned with — locally, and possibly on a national level as well. It's the walking-the-walk record they needed to make Orlando's A-list, and they're nearing the firstname.lastname@example.org