bowerbirds upper air
  • MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2009

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Bowerbirds are partly grand orchestra arrangement and time travel sensitive tones of Beirut, partly minimalist dark tension in strings and words of Bon Iver, and pieces of the storytelling and elaborations of The Decemberists. On their sophomore album, Upper Air, the Bowerbirds show their own voice wrapped within these woodland rich songs that carry traces of their influences, blended with a pop sensibility that makes it an album grandiose yet simply perfect for their crafted songwriting.

"Teeth" moves with uncertain rushes of strings, a hesitating stop and go lurching melody, breaking through in small explosions of the chorus, a patient drama unfolding. The delicate pickings of "Beneath Your Tree" thuds with subtle snaps and a fluid, beautiful melody that transforms as the leaves transform on the trees, a leaf drifting from above, a hidden gem of escape and anxious secret love, these suggested bright notes drumming underneath the wise piano and strings, the vocals betraying the shift of thoughts and moments. It's a love song in silkworm coating, at once secretive and heartfelt in its bewildered attempts. "Ghost Life" is a catchy pop song under Bowerbirds's cast of acoustic melodrama, the slice and flick of a guitar, an epic tale told in gentle strums and ocean's sighs in reserved quiet, to switch to life in a cheerful energized resolution with so much brightness and optimism in the rising voices and delightful melody, fading into single "Northern Lights." A song that is painted in the colors of the sunset, in harmonies and conviction, "you are already free."

Optimism that glimmers from the light refreshing lines of "Bright Future," but despite its pretty sound, tainted with an underlying slow sadness that sinks into the listener, the weakness displayed against a perfect blue sky. Meanwhile the rushes and swirls of male and female harmonies and the grand verses of "Crooked Lust" capture a flowing heart wretched with feeling, sentimentality seeping through the rich collision of instruments. At its end, Upper Air is a record of stories and moments, glittering rocks in a forest stream, at times cast with a darkness that seems impenetrable, at times bright and beautiful, with only the hint of the dangers of the riverbed beneath. -Laura Yan

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