Monday, July 23, 2007

Reviews:: The Bowerbirds Hymms for a Dark Horse

I can't imagine it is easy to be saddled with the expectations of being referred to as John Darnielle's new favorite band ("my favorite new band in forever."), but the PR people supporting the Bowerbirds is going to let them try. Despite the lofty praise, I'd say the new LP - Hymns for a Dark Horse - lives up to hype. It's a complex, but oddly familiar listen.

The trio - frontman and guitarist Phil, artist, harmonizer and accordion player Beth, and multi-instrumentalist and part-time vocalist Mark - have created a melodic folk record that seems to be growing on me like a well tended garden. I know that's an easy analogy to make, especially considering the eco-friendly vision the band exists in, but it's remarkably accurate.

Like most bloggers, I was introduced to the band with the email with John's thoughts and the fantastic MP3, The Dark Horse. It was such a great song that I posted it without hearing any other track (something we rarely do here on the Hill). The harmonies and violin drew me in and I was hooked. I think I was waiting to get a review copy of the record, because I forgot to revisit the record until I saw it at the local record shop.

I picked up the record this past week, and its been a really interesting listen. Lately, I've been stepping away from the psychedelic, freak-folk that is conjured with the name Devendra. While at times, the Bowerbirds do sound like the bearded wonder (although to me Phil sounds more like former tour mate Ivan from the Rosebuds), they create a different sort of melody.

Using nylon strings and an interesting collection of percussive stomps, this record is as soothing as it is haunting. Beth's accordion swirls throughout the tracks, but the trio tosses in harmonies (Bur Oak is simply beautiful) and uses such creative chimes that you get swept up in the melodies. Unlike a lot of other records in this genre, the record is easy to digest. You don't need countless listens to embrace it, but you still unearth something new with each listen.

Obviously, the traditional folk sounds are present - The Marbled Godwit - showcases the vocal meandering, simple acoustic picked riffs and violin required to be successful in the genre - but the majority of the record is more catchy. The rage of In Our Talons is the track that jumps out at you the quickest, but it is the bass drum driven Slow Down let's the trio show off their song writing skills. The accordion strengthens the track, but never distracts from the lyrics or the persistent kick of the drum. If you have any doubts about this band, jump to Olive Hearts and listen to the trio harmonize over the instrumentation and prepare to be hooked. Their sound is a fresh take on a style I was drifting away from and its actually made me revisit a few records I'd long since shelved.
MP3:: Olive Hearts
MP3:: In Our Talons

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Posted at 5:48 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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