wears the trousers magazine

bowerbirds: upper air (2009)
June 29, 2009, 10:17 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , ,


Upper Air ••½
Dead Oceans 

The accordionist and co-vocalist for North Carolina’s Bowerbirds boasts a truly amazing stage name: Beth Tacular. This by itself suggests that her band might possess a trashy, pop culture-obsessed aesthetic, or, at the very least, some semblance of a sense of humour. Sadly, both these things are absent from Bowerbirds’ second album, Upper Air. A more serious and resolutely tasteful album is unlikely to be released this year. Each track is centred around a slowly strummed acoustic guitar, embellished but never overwhelmed by complementary instrumentation: a waft of accordion here, a parp of organ there. At least they are consistent.

Bowerbirds’ first album, Hymns For A Dark Horse, was an ecologically-fixated affair, dedicated to “what still remains wild, on the earth, and inside us”. Upper Air’s lyrical ambitions are set considerably lower: we’re told that these songs are “more personal”, which, in practice, means the words tend to drift by pleasantly without leaving much of an impression. A more attentive listen, however, reveals a continuing reliance upon naturalistic imagery (viz. “The wind will howl through your trees and serenade me”). The lion’s share of the vocal duties are taken by guitarist Phil Moore, and it would’ve been nice to have heard more of Ms Tacular: she and Moore harmonise prettily on the chorus of ‘Teeth’, and their duet ‘Beneath Your Tree’ adds some much needed tension and variety. It’s a shame, then, that she goes MIA for most of the album’s second half.

The main problem with Upper Air is the tastefulness mentioned above. The album’s most affecting moment arrives when Moore dispenses with wordiness altogether during the “oah-oh”-ing on the chorus of ‘Ghost Life’, although any excitement dissipates quickly during the song’s snail-paced central section. It seems fitting that Bowerbirds have acted as Bon Iver’s support act; Upper Air shares the unhurried pace and chilly ambience of their touring partner’s For Emma…For Ever Ago, but it lacks any of that album’s headline-worthy soul-baring or stylistic left turns. Overall, Upper Air is by no means a bad album – it’s just a decidedly unspectacular (oh, alright then, un-Beth-tacular) one.

Chistopher Monk 
UK release date: 06/07/09; www.myspace.com/bowerbirds


FREE MP3: Bowerbirds, ‘Northern Lights’ [via Pitchfork]


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