Bowerbirds – The Clearing

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s been about three whole years since we last heard from Raleigh’s Bowerbirds; their last effort Upper Air definitely warmed all our hearts.  After one listen to The Clearing, you’ll be glad the band waited; this record’s assuredly the best thing they’ve put together with their unique blend of folk, strings and sweet melodies.

Momentarily a guitar is plucked as “Tuck the Darkness In” begins, but the band quickly adds a minimal percussive stroke to the track.  A gentle piano accompanies Philip Moore on his vocal foray, just before strings join in to sweep you away in a stupendous melody. Moore’s voice is often united with Beth Tacular too on this number; they’ve created one of the most beautifully warming songs of 2012. But, Bowerbirds aren’t just going to let their melodies swell over and over again, as you see on “In the Yard,” where Beth takes the lead singing role.  Their approach here is less grandiose, yet the union of Moore and Tacular again creates moments you’ll have a hard time getting out of your head.

The Clearing has the group really working with their sound, providing more intimate details to the negative space, crafting a sonic experience not unlike Wye Oak.  “Brave World” holds this quality, especially with the percussive element and the piano that flesh out the song itself, though clearly you can say that Moore’s vocals steal the show. Similarly, the following track, “Hush” goes about things in the same manner, allowing the song to really come to the listener, rather than forcing melody on us.  While it remains clear through moments like this that Bowerbirds have changed their musical dynamics here, such progressions really highlight the band’s writing gifts.

You’ll still find the band working with their bread and butter, however, especially with songs like “Death Wish” and “Sweet Moments.” The latter uses little more than a strummed guitar and some oddball additives to fill the space, but it remains mostly a folk-driven track.  “Death Wish” has some deep string arrangements that provide sort of a haunting emotion, which perfectly juxtaposes the soft quality of the Moore’s voice. I’m moved each time I listen to that darkened string element creep into the track.

It all comes to a fitting end on the closing track, “Now We Hurry On,” which is sort of a track that’s compiled all the elements that are present on The Clearing into one final statement by the group.  There’s tinkering piano parts, traditional folk moments, and yet quietly fades out in the end, just as a perfect record should do.  After a three year absence, the time appears to have been well-spent for Bowerbirds; they’ve advanced their sound to a degree that will surely find them reaping huge rewards.  It’s truly a listen that will reward you time and time again.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/01-Tuck-the-Darkness-In-1.mp3]

Download:Bowerbirds – Tuck the Darkness In [MP3]

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