THE MALE BOWERBIRD is known to construct a structure, called a bower, and decorate it with flowers, feathers, and any other debris he may find in the forest. This is done in the hope of someday attracting the right lady bowerbird into his lair to mate. With that in mind, it's interesting to see how the Raleigh-based band Bowerbirds have built up and gathered adornments for their most recent bower, Upper Air, birthed in a cabin in rural North Carolina, the same location where they wrote their debut long-player, Hymns for a Dark Horse.
"We started off recording Upper Air in the same sparse way as Hymns, but none of the songs seemed to materialize in the same way, so we did it more piece by piece, starting with vocals and guitar, and adding on from there," explains Bowerbirds singer/guitarist Phil Moore.
While both records showcase transcendentalist folk at its very best, the most impressive aspect of Upper Air is the way it fills your chest cavity with thunder; in the music of Bowerbirds there is a backbone that didn't exist before. It's as if Bowerbirds stepped outside and foraged for all of the sounds and sights they wanted to incorporate in Upper Air, while the wind blew Moore's song structure through the sturdy walls of a nearby gorge.
"Teeth" swells in a quiet fury of strings, oscillating accordion, frantic tambourine, and a curious tom-tom that beats in time with your heart. The female Bowerbird—vocalist/accordionist/drummer Beth Tacular—finds herself drawn into what Moore is singing, thus charting the location of each note he hits and responding with a perfectly harmonic counterpart. This weighted anthem, celebrating life's uncertainties, dithers down into a beautiful three-part harmony, culminating in a hum so sweet it's like taking a final breath after a long, full life.
The Bowerbirds' clearest accomplishment is delivered simply, yet soulfully, in the chorus of the song "Chimes." By the time Moore sings, "Still with all my thoughts/I draw my breath/from an ancient earth," you'll want to disentangle yourself from the notion of how things should be and make use of what exists around you; because what's around is always best.