Bowerbirds (AKA Beth Tacular and Phil Moore) started out as just a small folk duo – their first two albums, Hymns For A Dark Horse and Upper Air, were certainly beautiful and haunting, full of amazingly written songs that stayed with you long after they were over, but never reaching above the campfire melodies that they seemed at times to emulate. With their third album, The Clearing, the group has strove to become something more, even going so far as to record in Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studios on some of the tracks.
The end result? Absolutely fantastic. From beginning to end, this is an album that oozes with urgency, inviting you deeper and deeper into the compelling lyrics and complicated levels instrumentation. Even on the slower songs, there’s never a boring moment, something always drawing you into the world of the song – from vibraphones to electric guitars to pounding pianos, there’s an unexpected element at every turn. These are no mere singalong songs (even though you can do that if you’d like), they’re restless melodies seeming to exist on a tipping point, swaying back and forth between sanity and madness. Many of the songs begin with soothing melodies and harmonies before building up layer upon layer of instrumentation, picking up the tempo, ending just at the perfect climax, leaving you wanting more before the silence returns.
Much of the increasing aspirations for the songwriting and musicality of the album can be attributed to the personal trials and tribulations of the band itself. Forming as a couple, Phil and Beth broke up after Upper Air‘s release and went their separate ways. Upon realizing that they didn’t want to spend their lives with anyone else, they reunited and returned to their North Carolina cabin in the woods to work on their art, write songs, and take a deeper look at the world surrounding them. Whatever hardships they went through show through here in slivers, but not at the expense of the optimism and hope that makes their sound so beautiful. Perfectly pairing the darkness of daily life with the light of happiness and joy, The Clearing is easily one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Bowerbirds are playing at Black Cat tonight (tickets are surprisingly still available) so cancel whatever plans you had and make your way up to 14th Street for what is sure to be an amazing show.