There is so much going on musically with Dolphine, the new album by the New York band Mega Bog, that it's difficult to know where to begin describing it. The album opens with a gorgeous bit of lush, jazzy pop called "For The Old World," which resembles some of the boundary-breaking work that Joni Mitchell did on albums like Hejira and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns in the 1970s.
But that's just the beginning of the journey.
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Erin Birgy, who is the creative nucleus of Mega Bog, has the evocative voice of a chanteuse, and she weaves unpredictable, floating vocal melodies around her songs as they move through sharp dream-pop ("I Hear You Listening (To The Bug On My Wall)"), orchestral soundscapes (the title track), sweeping, cinematic ballads ("Shadows Break"), and hushed acoustic folk ("Waiting In The Story").
Taken as a whole, Dolphine is less of an album than it is an immersive aural journey, led by a mysterious and enigmatic guide.
The album took two years or so for Birgy to make, both because she wanted to get it right and because she was touring behind Mega Bog's previous release, Happy Together.
"The writing of a lot of the songs started in 2015," she says. "It was right after Happy Together had been finished and I moved to New York. I was personally working through a lot of things, and I wasn't just working on the record. I was touring a lot. It was a slow process to get them to a place where I thought they were releasable, but it was good to do it that way."
Constructing Dolphine slowly allowed Birgy and her circle of collaborators to add and subtract elements to the sound until literally the last minutes before the album's completion.
"I was still adding things in the final mixes," she says. "It was nice to have the space to listen to the songs and realize I was still creating something," she says. "I saw things change, and that I had the power to change them. It was just nice to have a lot of reflection time."
Birgy was also able to choose the musicians who played on Dolphine carefully, a group that includes bassist Matt Bachmann, drummer Derek Baron, guitarist Meg Duffy, keyboardist Aaron Otheim, and many others. Ultimately, more than a dozen musicians worked on the album, but the music they created was surprisingly cohesive and seamless.
"I was able to write and rehearse with the people who were closest with me," Birgy says. "It was a combination of musicianship and friendship. Everyone had to be close and understanding and willing to go a certain direction. It was pretty magical to have people who really knew where I was coming from and knew the songs."
That sense of trust was vital to the making of Dolphine, because Birgy was processing a lot of grief while creating the album's 11 tracks. The lyrics aren't blatantly autobiographical, but the feelings of loss and confusion that permeate the album are Birgy's attempts to deal with the death of her beloved horse, Rose, with the aftermath of two abortions, and with the death of one of her collaborators, guitarist Ash Rickli.
In fact, one of the tracks on the album, "Spit In The Eye Of The Fire King," was written and sung by Rickli before he passed away onstage in Athens, GA at only 30 years old.
In a sense, Birgy was able to build a musical shelter around herself, one that allowed her to deal with her grief, but still be able to keep a part of herself secret. Much like the truly great singers her music recalls, Joni Mitchell most prominently among them, music gave her an outlet of expression that mere conversation or confession could not provide.
"It's the only way I know how to process stuff," she says. "It's a medium that's far beyond spoken language. You can kind of examine yourself, and you don't have to have all of the answers."