"THERE'S A BAND playing in the woods, and they're wearing capes." It's not the most alluring musical recommendation, but curiosity got the best of me and soon I was stumbling through the campsite-strewn woods at last year's Pickathon, searching out this band, capes and all. Sure enough, in a narrow enclave of trees with a semicircle of cross-legged fans perched about, there was Breathe Owl Breathe, resembling a trio of kids playing rock-and-roll dress up. Yet with a simple setup of guitar/cello/drums and intertwining harmonies of whimsical lyrics, Breathe Owl Breathe was captivating to the point that their serene surroundings, and handmade outerwear, became irrelevant.
Just as perplexing as my initial experience is Breathe Owl Breathe's unique backstory: Hailing from what drummer Trevor Hobbs describes as "northern lower Michigan" (East Jordan, to be exact), the band resides together in a rural log cabin built by the forefathers of guitarist/singer Micah Middaugh (who insists their spirits still roam the cabin alongside the band). This collective existence is so heavenly and carefree that it spills over to their music, as the band hikes, swims, creates art, and finds time to make music along the way—most recently their finest album to date, Magic Central (out next month on Hometapes).
While previous recordings merely hinted at a consistent musical direction, Magic Central finds Breathe Owl Breathe focused and at their creative zenith. This giddy collection of simple folk numbers is buoyed by the band's sincere and ingenuous nature as they mirror their idyllic summer camp life in these alarmingly simple songs. It's the polar opposite of what you'd expect from such an isolated recording session—Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago this is not—as the band sings with childlike wonder of invincibility ("Own Stunts"), animals ("Parrots in the Tropical Trees"), and more than a couple songs about underwater activities (the heartfelt "Across the Loch" and the quirky "Swimming").
The songs contained in Magic Central are the product of a band whose snug relationship stretches far beyond the rigid confines of the stage or casual friendship. As cellist/singer Andrea Moreno-Beals explains it, this is a family. "I think we're like siblings that really get along all the time. I feel like we're around each other pretty much all the time, pretty much nonstop, and it's amazing how well we get along, and how we like to be around each other."
Breathe Owl Breathe play the Fir Meadows Stage on Friday at 8 pm and the Woods Stage on Sunday at noon.