Monday, July 13, 2009

review: Bowerbirds' Upper Air w/ mp3 & vid

Bowerbirds, Upper Air
Dead Oceans, 2009

Bowerbirds-"Beneath Your Tree"

I’m not sure what constitutes “Americana” per se these days, but I’d like to nominate the Bowerbirds’ new release Upper Air for consideration. The Bowerbirds, made up of Phil Moore and Beth Tacular, have set up a reputation for being “organic,” so to speak for living in an Airstream and building their own cabin in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think it’s them, I think it’s just central North Carolina, as I’ve heard similar statements from other Carolina bands. There’s this fascination with the WOODS, the FOREST, with plaid shirts and workpants that you wear because you need them. Maybe there is something Walden-esque to all this or maybe it’s part of the larger artistic and cultural shift of our culture---why the heck do we need all this stuff? I’m always surprised at the relative surprise of a group like the Bowerbirds and their lifestyle choices—don’t we want our artists to be outsiders of some sort? If not, what message do they have to bring to us neophytes and hyper-connected blog sort? Not that the Bowerbirds represent that perfectly—apparently they do have a web design business, guess they have wireless out in the Airstream. Maybe that’s the Upper Air reference. That cloud of wireless Internet floating above the Airstream, above the earth. Or maybe songs like “Teeth” and “Silver Clouds” contain lyrics about the slippery nature of air, of life, of existence. Maybe that’s it.

So this should be the new Americana sound, it is the new bluegrass.
[More after the jump...]

It is full of broodiness that build up to hopeful choruses. The lead “House of Diamonds” represents this well, yes I was already free and The Bowerbirds convince me of it. The same structure reoccurs in “Ghost Life.” Meandering folk verses with Phil’s assured and great vocal range engage in these subtle starts and stops with a sparkling piano before belting out a powerful harmonized chorus of moans. It is despair and hope, despair and hope in the sound at least, like they are afraid to leave us on the edge of anything. Reel us in, continue to reel us back in.

I’m a little surprised that “Northern Lights” was the first single release of sorts, though it really hits up the folkish nature of a typical pop song and contains the great line—“I can’t expect a southern girl to know the northern lights”---but in many ways it’s a twist in the Bowerbirds style, more band-like, more together, more unified than some of the other tracks. I would prefer another track like “Teeth” which lays on the accordion (I think) real thick and it’s melancholic like a clown that roamed too far from the circus. The accordion melody line is great and makes the song—this is the accordion song of my dreams. So is the accordion of “Beneath My Tree.” I’m loving that sound.

Upper Air is very consistent with other Dead Ocean releases like Phosphorescent and John Vanderslice, though I feel like the Bowerbirds are holding back in some way—like they really have a Band of Horses-type jam in them somewhere, they’re just not sure where to put it…just make sure the accordion is present. An excellent pick-up, and should be a new addition to the Americana canon, whatever that is.

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