Those that have caught onto Bowerbirds in the last few years, whether it was through their 2007 debut album Hymns for a Dark Horse or its 2009 follow-up Upper Air, probably have a pretty good grasp on what the band is all about. The word “rustic” gets thrown around a lot when talking about a band like this, presumably because they’ve got a down home charm that transcends all the way into their lyrics. So you get a lot of acoustic guitars and graceful pianos, maybe some violins and glockenspiel for good measure. Imagine a less inventive version of Fleet Foxes without more muted vocal harmonies, and Bowerbirds is a band that should come to mind. Perhaps it’s better to simply say they’re peers with Iron & Wine and Midlake in their pastoralism. Navigating an urban jungle while listening to their songs never feels quite as good as it does when it soundtracks your trip into the woods or through an open field. That was the case with the band before, and with their third long player The Clearing it’s essentially more of the same. The changes made to their sound are largely cosmetic, with the instruments a little less buzzy and the vocals a little more up-front in the mix. Bowerbirds have also grown a little in their compositional abilities. That’s clear from the opening track “Tuck the Darkness In”, starting with just an acoustic guitar and vibraphone but slowly building and adding more instruments until it explodes in a cacophony of noise for the final 90 seconds. Following that up is “In the Yard”, which invites a whole other collection of instruments into the fold paired next to Beth Tacular’s sweet vocal, also essentially a paradox to Philip Moore’s from the track before. This pair of songs is evidence of growth not because of how far apart they are sonically, but rather how close. They compliment one another to help form a fully functional portrait of the band. It’s a shame that can’t be said of every track on The Clearing, but there are definitely more winners than losers thanks to moments like “Stitch the Hem”, “Hush” and “Sweet Moment”. Most follow the same slow burn beauty pattern established at the very beginning, though it’s consistently fascinating to keep track of the many instrumental layers that are placed atop one another. Sometimes it doesn’t work, as is the case with “This Year” and “Overcome With Light”, both of which are burdened with the curse of being too conventional for their own good. Lyrically speaking the band continues on the path of their prior albums, using nature imagery as metaphors for our personal lives. Great as it all sounds when it comes together, so much of The Clearing feels like a musical safety net. There’s so much beauty in these songs, yet they often feel like things we’ve heard before in their catalogue and the catalogues of similar bands. Bowerbirds may have grown some on this record, but they’ve only moved a foot when a yard was needed.
I hope you had a grand weekend. Welcome to Monday, the stuff of workplace nightmares. To help you prepare for the five day battle, let’s jump right in and talk about today’s Pick Your Poison. Be sure to get your download on for tracks by Amanda Mair, Big Baby Gandhi, Dot Hacker, Mr. Gnome, Diplo’s remix of PO PO, Prevrat, Tortelsen, Tyburn Saints and The Voyeurist. That’s all the effort I can muster up for you on a day like today. We’ll talk more tomorrow.
Fanfarlo’s 2009 debut album Reservoir was quite a bombastic and enthralling indie pop record that earned them comparisons to early Arcade Fire. The melodies were big and often incorporated violin and horns into their vast soundscape. Singer Simon Balthazar can quite easily channel Zach Condon of Beirut on any given song, so it’s no wonder there were a few mentions of that band as well when making reference points. But no band wants to be pigeonholed, and bearing the status as a second-rate Arcade Fire or Beirut can be a little frustrating. Of course there are worse bands to be compared to. Still, Fanfarlo were conscious of this when putting together their sophmore effort, Rooms Filled With Light. They’ve expanded their sound and instrumental arsenal to work in more synths and samples, among other things. The results are still very indie pop-inspired, but with a heavier 80’s touch. It’s not so impactful you’ll think the band has gone new wave, but a few tracks might bring to mind some great Talking Heads moments. Have a listen to tracks like “Lenslife” and “Feathers” to see if you can hear some of that bleeding through. What’s utterly fascinating about the whole record is that in spite of its broadened influences and instruments, there’s nothing on it that feels retro or dated. The band’s ability to make older elements sound new again goes a long way towards proving they’re more than just a flash in the pan. Still, that pan has so much flash in it, as almost every song on Rooms Filled With Light is extremely well structured to maximize enjoyability and memorability. The band has already technically released 3 singles (or at least 3 music videos) for “Replicate”, “Deconstruction” and “Shiny Things”. Don’t be surprised if additional videos emerge for “Tunguska”, “Tightrope” and “Dig”, as they’re worthy of that sort of attention as well. Delightful as it all is, there are moments like on their debut where the band goes a little too cutesy or twee. They tread into the waters of Noah and the Whale, who are by no means a bad band, just a slightly misguided one. When you’re always looking to that next chorus repetition to hammer that hook home sometimes you forget that the road off the beaten path can sometimes be even more rewarding. For all the satisfaction that comes from broadening your influences, it means less if you play it safe anyways. Fanfarlo have made one of the more addictive records so far in 2012, but it satisfies with all the grace of a summer movie blockbuster. It’s big, loud, brash and will send a little thrill up your spine, just don’t expect to hear it talked about during awards season.
I try to keep things light and fun on Fridays, so I want to point you in the direction of two how new music videos. The first comes from Chairlift for their song “Met Before”. You can watch the video by clicking here. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure video, which means using your arrow keys at various points will take you in different directions. It’s really cool and I’m kind of addicted to finding out how many different paths I can take. The second video comes from Grimes for the song “Genesis”. Claire Boucher hangs out at places you might not expect her to hang out at – a men’s locker room, a dirtbike race and a football game. The paradox of course is that she wears her headphones and dances around there with a smile on her face. It’s a great video, and you can watch it at my Tumblr. All that cleared up, let’s talk Friday Pick Your Poison. I’ll recommend tracks from Brendan Benson, Child Bite, Chocolate Robots, CSLSX & I Break Horses, PS I Love You and Young Hines.
As I was very distracted yesterday by Leap Day, I neglected to mention the death of Davy Jones, which was absolutely the music news of the day/week. The Monkees are not a band I love, but I did have a solid amount of respect for what they tried to do. To go from a fictional TV band, in which all your songs and instruments were created for you and then making an honest effort to do it on their own, it takes some guts. Talent, too. No disrespect to Mike Nesmith, but Davy Jones was my favorite of The Monkees, and that’s mostly because I knew a guy in high school named Dave Jones. One of my teachers made good use of it by singing “Daydream Believer” every time he called on him in class. That was really what I thought of when hearing of Davy Jones’ passing. One of my favorite Monkees stories was when Nesmith stopped by Abbey Road studios when The Beatles were recording. Nesmith reportedly asked Lennon “Do you think we’re a cheap imitation of the Beatles, your movies and your records?” to which John Lennon assuredly replied, “I think you’re the greatest comic talent since the Marx Brothers. I’ve never missed one of your programs.” While Jones wasn’t present for that meeting, it was nice for that moment to know that at least one of the Beatles had some sort of respect for those guys. So R.I.P. Davy Jones, you’ll certainly be missed. Onto today’s Pick Your Poison. I’ll place my yellow highlighter on tracks from The D.A., Dope Body, England in 1819, Gemma Ray, Gold Beach, Moonlight Bride and Vanbot. In the Soundcloud section you’re not going to want to miss streaming tracks from Bryan Scary, Dent May, Michael Kiwanuka with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, and Sean Bones.