The Common Loon is a bird and a band.
Its awkwardly placed webbed feet make the Common Loon, a waterfowl, too clumsy to easily navigate land. It resides in the colder, northern environs of North America and gained a leg up on other pedestrian birds by appearing on the Canadian one-dollar coin. During mating season it makes a ruckus, wailing in a high-pitched yodel. Contrary to popular belief, the Common Loon does not mate for life.
Common Loon, the band, is a duo of early thirtysomething songwriters with thick beards and full mustachios, compensating for an otherwise lack of physical prowess. They hang out in the flat Midwestern landscape of Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and earned notoriety by releasing a stunning debut album of spatial, reverberating rock music. During recording sessions they texture indie rock with subtle synthetics, honeyed vocal harmonies, and a smidgen of distortion. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for two men, in this case the members of Common Loon, to befriend each other in kindergarten and foster a friendship—then a musical partnership—for a quarter of a century.
Robert Hirschfeld met Matthew Campbell at age five. They became fast friends, crashing the country club pool on humid summer days. Later, they earned their first taste of success as a duo when they won a 14-and-under doubles tennis tournament. In high school, Robert convinced Matthew to purchase a drum kit so that they could tackle the disappointments of adolescence head on by forming a garage band of no note. After college forced a cross-country wedge between the pair, Robert (guitar, vocals) and Matthew (drums, keyboards, vocals) reunited and in 2006 began the evolution from lo-fi bedroom pop to often understated yet polished rock songs.
Robert, a guy with a law degree, and Matthew, the son of a dental artisan, are largely uninterested in today’s popular music. Instead, their songs reflect a studied history of yesterday’s popular music: the shoegazer and slowcore movements of the early 1990s; the cerebral rock of Grandaddy, Spiritualized, and Yo La Tengo; the cinematic snippets of Sigur Ros and Godspeed; the psych-pop ditties of the Elephant 6 Collective. At turns mellow and brooding, ethereal and emotional, Common Loon’s songs are lyrically engrossed by bookish themes and phonetic turns of phrase grounded by tangible settings—Palestine, Mexico, Greenland.
The Long Dream of Birds was crafted over the course of three years. In reality, though, these songs were much, much longer in the making, with roots that lie in backyard Wiffle ball and teenage acne and junior high crushes. At the risk of sounding sappy, Birds showcases something we rarely see in modern music: two smart, straightforward people who know each other inside and out.
To be certain, Common Loon won’t be confused with any Williamsburg band du jour, which is fine by them: the world needs both hipsters and humble sorts who remind the trendsetters of their roots. Common Loon is all of the things we still love about rock music. And contrary to popular belief, that actually counts for something today.