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]

Brand New Bowerbirds Track

After the release of Upper Air, I am pretty sure that anyone who has had a listening experience with Bowerbirds has fallen totally in love with the group.  They create sweeping folk songs, carefully crafted and destined to delight listeners.  You might have to wait until March 6th to hear the Clearing, the group’s new record for Dead Oceans, but you can preview a track from the album right now.  It’s a really incredible track with singer Philip Moore releasing some incredible harmonies from deep down inside.  This should definitely grab your ears and get you stoked for the album’s release.

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

Download: Bowerbirds – Tuck the Darkness In [MP3]

2009 Top 50 Albums

bestof2009cover_albums

Creating a Top 50 Albums list is never easy.  You have to battle with what you think the world believes, and what you truly believe in your heart, to be solid jams.  We have even more trouble because we have to three writers, all who have different ideas, and we have to make those ideas fit into a neat box.  Well, we got it done, and honestly, our criteria was based on two things: how great we thought the album was, artistically speaking, and how long we listened to it without getting bored.  That’s it. It’s fool proof; you might not like it, but it’s our list, so here it is… Read more

Bowerbirds – Upper Air

bower

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Last summer we met Fleet Foxes, and their harmonious folk led to much acclaim whilst keeping us warm for the rest of the year.  This summer, we have Bowerbirds.  While they may not share much  in common with last summer’s hit, they do seem to dabble in the folk nostalgia, most likely influenced by their location in Raleigh, North Carolina.  On their new record, Upper Air, you’ll find them quietly strumming instruments while combining the voices of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular in order to warm your soul–though if you’re in Austin, Tx, odds are you don’t need it that much.

Something in Phil Moore’s voice just evokes emotion.  You can tell from the minute he steps in on “House of Diamonds” that he’s got something personal to release, whether truly personal, or as a narrative; you’ll find that his voice warrants repeated listening.  Then combine it with Beth’s voice during the chorus, and you have the recipe for the group’s deeply rich melodious folk productions.

Almost every song stands alone on this album, as if they crafted them out of individual stories, yet they all fit together, standing as a woven basket of an album, full of various tales and combined textures.  In “Teeth,” the usage of accordion provides a new layer with which the group can tie in their shared vocal arrangements.  Crystal clear picking of guitars stand out in the foreground, exfoliating the textured sounds in  a beautiful manner.

When you find yourself in the middle of the album, you meet the longest song on this long player.  “Ghost Life” demonstrates the group at its best, with some of the stronger lyrics this side of 2009. Here, the paired vocals of Moore and Tacular do somewhat resemble Fleet Foxes harmonies, although you clearly won’t mistake this band as anything other than an original.  Such a standout is worthy of being played over and over again on your home stereo, where the pristine sounds of the tune can truly take on a life of their own.

Near the end of the album, you’ll find Moore really pushing himself, in the realm of vocals, on “Crooked Lust.” But, this is just a momentary prelude to the record’s closer, “This Day.”  It’s almost a solo number, until you hit the end of the song, where everyone joins together to bring an end to “This Day,” and in doing so, bring an end to Upper Air.

Much like the artwork on the cover, this is folk music for the clouds.  Temporarily, it will let you float outside of yourself as you escape the a land created by someone else.  It’s a blissful folk journey that the Bowerbirds will encourage you to take, as they took it themselves in completing their best work to date.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-teeth-1.mp3]

Download: Bowerbirds – Teeth [MP3]

New Music From Bowerbirds

bowerbirdsphotoAfter the success of their debut LP, North Carolina band Bowerbirds are back and ready to drop a  sophomore LP on our ears.  The new LP will be called Upper Air and features this brand spankin’ new single “Northern Lights”.  You can get this album in stores June 7th via Secretly Canadian. They’ll also be making a stop at the Mohawk in August so keep your ears open for a reminder.  I’m diggin’ this one hard style.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/northernlights.mp3]

Download: Bowerbirds – Northern Lights [MP3]