Bowerbirds: Upper Air

By: Dennis Cook

One morning you wake to find you are shackled to your bed and bound and gagged. Oh my, what a predicament.

With this Bowerbirds fabulous sophomore album, Upper Air (released July 7 on Dead Oceans), is off and running towards a freedom we already possess but frequently forget or deny ourselves. As sparkling and pastoral as their debut was (JamBase review), this leaps into the world, climbing as high as the title implies with strong wings – no melting wax contraptions here.

Their foundation of friendly, left-of-center sing-a-longs remains, all the winning traits associated with folk distilled by one band, but they greatly expand on their palette this time, infusing their darkly observant tunes with a moan and reach full of arching electricity, graceful chamber music-esque turns and a vocal blend that's positively swoony. There's not a dud amongst these 10 cuts, which build in density and enjoyment as the record spins to its trembling, sunset conclusion. From the delicacy of "Silver Clouds" to the songcraft perfection of "Northern Lights" to the guarded hope of "Bright Future," every song hits its mark, piercing us with truths snared with thoughtful poetic language and music to match.

In some ways, Upper Air plays in the same fields as recent (and quite excellent) releases from Grizzly Bear and Antony & The Johnsons but with more exposed skin and color in its cheeks. This grapples with fate and the world, as it is, never forgetting the flesh and bone beneath it all. Just wonderful stuff.

Bowerbirds are currently on a joint tour with the equally swell, outside the box Megafaun. Find dates here.

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[Published on: 7/9/09]

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