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Bowerbirds - The Clearing

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Artist: Bowerbirds

Album: The Clearing

Label: Dead Oceans

Review date: Mar. 21, 2012

The first two albums from the pair of North Carolina-based musicians known as Bowerbirds were stark, allegorical affairs, delivered with vocals that could be earnest or sinister. The Clearing feels different from the outset: “Tuck the Darkness In” contains a density to its arrangement, a low-end backdrop to Phil Moore’s vocals that slowly allows a lush arrangement to unfold, the drums eventually taking on an almost martial quality and bandmate Beth Tacular releasing a series of ethereal shouts that bring the song to its end. It’s a reminder of one of the uses of the old Side 1/Track 01: a sort of thesis, a declaration that not all is as it once was.

Many of the surprises on The Clearing come from sudden intrusions of unexpected instrumental choices, There’s the spindly guitar solo that erupts out of the middle of “Hush,” the violin that comes to the forefront two-thirds of the way into “Overcome With Light,” or the cacophonous brass that brings “Death Wish” to a close. It’s a huge shift for Moore and Tacular, a move toward the stranger side of the baroque. Throughout the album, what endures is an eerie sense of scale, a majesty that seems on the verge of upending itself, skirting the lines of the theoretical, pushing toward abstraction.

As with many duos, the number of musical permutations available to Bowerbirds seemed to dwindle over time; what was striking on their Hymns For A Dark Horse could have become formulaic if repeated for too long. What’s emerged here is more unpredictable, a transitional record that still feels complete. Even if the same discomfort summoned on their early “In Our Talons” single is still manifest here, it doesn’t sound like a declaration of utter safety as much as a temporary postponement of something inevitable. Coupled with their newfound density, this longstanding ambiguity lends Bowerbirds music a renewed power.

By Tobias Carroll

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