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.
Bowerbirds – In the Yard
Bowerbirds – Tuck the Darkness In