Generals, the new Mynabirds album, starts by unsettling a familiar place.
On opener “Karma Debt”, Singer Laura Burhenn croons over a slow-burn ballad that contains hints that the band is about to steer away from the modernized take of vintage ’60s pop that was at the heart of the band’s 2010 debut, What We Lose In the Fire We Gain In the Flood.
A sparse bleat of electronic drum programming pairs with piano. That bedrock is disturbed at points in the three-minute track by off-kilter synth parts and other little production quirks.
By the time the album launches on “Wolf Mother”, Burhenn and her producer Richard Swift, who also produced the debut, are coloring with a host of new, more percussive shades.
Burhenn says the point of making the new record was to do more experimenting in the studio.
“We wanted to push the envelope of what the Mynabirds could sound like,” she says.
The album, which Burhenn says takes on a political feel, started with the idea of a marching drum and the movement of people on the street — clapping hands, singing songs and clamoring for change.
Burhenn says she wanted to take her anger and frustration that sat in the lyrical content and turn it into something positive. Instead of just being pissed off political rants, these songs are more a call to arms.
The title track, “Generals”, puts that rallying cry up-front, as Burhenn sings, “Calling all my generals, my daughters, my revolutionists/ We got strength in numbers and they’re gon’ to pay for it.”
The record keeps the pace sprightly, however, with tempos that seek to move bodies.
“There’s a lot of darker subject matter, but I wanted the record to still be fun,” Burhenn says.
While this version of the Mynabirds signals a change from the first album’s sound, it’s still anchored by Burhenn’s voice and aided by the classic-pop-meets-studio-tinkering production of Richard Swift.
Burhenn recalls the joy of making her first record with Swift, which included plenty of nights of whiskey drinking, record playing and dancing, at times all the way until the sun rose again the next morning.
“We had such a blast making the first record,” she says. “He’s one of my best friends in the entire world.”
The second-album experience was a bit different as Burhenn struggled with an illness during a portion of the recording sessions. While the sessions still included records and music discussions, fresh juice replaced whiskey as Burhenn worked to keep her voice ready for recording.
Swift, too, ably took on the band’s new direction and melded it with his own experimental spirit. Burhenn says she was never worried that Swift would be on board with helping the band take its new rhythmic revolution to the streets.
“I knew he was absolutely going to get where we were going towards and be excited to go there (with us),” she says.
The sessions, which lasted about three weeks total, took place in Oregon this past November, December and January.
The songs mostly were recorded in the order that the fell on the album, Burhenn says. All the songs lead to the swaying closer “Greatest Revenge”, which brings the record to a sensitive, emotional ending moment, she says.
The album art connects to the album’s theme and has spawned its own photo project, which can be seen online at thenewrevolutionists.org.
The stark black-and-white photos of women stems from an exhibit of Richard Avedon photos that Burhenn saw back in her hometown, Washington, D.C. The iconography of Avedon’s photo style has been borrowed by many, including Calvin Klein’s advertisements.
“It’s very much a part of our cultural lexicon,” Burhenn says.
The photos that stopped Burhenn in her tracks was titled “Generals of the Daughters of the American Revolution”, which featured old women that were part of the DAR organization dressed in starched satin dresses and white gloves.
Burhenn says it led her to think about what women revolutionaries truly look like today.
“Who are the women on the ground doing the difficult work these days?” Burhenn asks.
So Burhenn, who says she is eligble to be a member of DAR, decided to try to answer that question with the New Revolutionists project. The basic idea is to give voice and visibility to women making a difference by shooting them in a Avedon-style combined with the idea of a warrior portrait.
What originally started as a political protest has now become a yearbook of women involved in the life of Omaha’s community and beyond. The nomination process is completely open and the site evolves daily.
Meanwhile, Burhenn and company are ready to take their themes of change, protest and empowerment on the road, in what Burhenn hopes is a fun, unifying dance party in every city.
“It’s an exultation of the things that unite us,” she says.
The Mynabirds CD release show w/ Jake Bellows and Honeybee & Hers takes place Friday, June 8th at the Slowdown, 729 North 14th St. Tickets are $5. For more information, visit theslowdown.com.