A natural progression, and the best LP yet from the indie-folk couple.
James Skinner 2012-03-08
Over their previous two albums as Bowerbirds, Phil Moore and Beth Tacular have tapped into a wonderful strain of Americana and created a world unto itself. Theirs is a space dictated by the changing of the season, the immensity of nature, and the power – and fallibility – of memory. Wrought out of sparse, organic instrumentation and expressive vocal turns from the pair, it is also palpably influenced by their long-term relationship, which collapsed for a while in the years between 2009’s Upper Air and this ambitious third album.
Recorded for the most part in Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio with Brian Joseph at its helm, that ambition is most readily apparent on the slow-build of its opener, Tuck the Darkness In. "Oh my dear friend, everything falls to death," sings Moore over a sweeping, expansive thrust that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Arcade Fire LP; "we tuck the darkness in." The arrangements are bracing throughout – witness the clatter of percussion and ivories that permeates Stitch the Hem, the surging strings and electric guitar that bolster This Year – yet they feel like a natural progression from the comparatively threadbare production of the band’s earlier work.
Meanwhile, Moore and Tacular have grown in confidence as songwriters, and characteristically fine lyrical flourishes (and a couple of lines straight out of Dylan’s With God on Our Side) make up songs which often deviate from traditional verse-chorus structures, meandering and weaving their way to close in a manner as well-earned and intuitive as it is unexpected.
At some point during the gestation of the record the couple ran over a dog in their van; she emerged with a shattered pelvis and has been with them ever since. In a short film made to accompany its release, they refer to the dog (and her attitude) as the theme of the album, and it is not something they necessarily intend in jest. Rebuilding and restoration – whether that be of a home, a relationship or a sickly canine – are what The Clearing is really all about, and in fashioning it so lovingly and with such care, Bowerbirds have come up with their best to date.