Bowerbirds Hymns for a Dark Horse

[Burly Time; 2007]

Styles: folk, Americana, acoustic
Others: Devendra Banhart, Antony and The Johnsons, Micah Blue Smaldone, Micah P. Hinson, any other ‘Micah’

One of the biggest pitfalls of reviewing music is getting snagged by a large, jagged-metal aesthetic trap and becoming hypnotized by its luster, to the point where penning an objective review is only as realistic as separating songs from the context in which they are delivered. Bowerbirds are by-and-large a perfect example of this problem. Similar to a folker’s Clinic (post-Internal Wrangler), they have a unique, often melodica-reliant sound that’s so fresh it was practically created for critics to mess themselves over. They also do little to change their aims top-to-bottom; thus, if you like the first entry in their diary, you’ll likely continue to read through all 10 of their journal scrawlings.

But the question of variety Clinic has been attempting to answer since Internal Wrangler is already poised to haunt Bowerbirds. Namely, once you scratch past the initial trappings of said approach, is there enough superior material to render the entire package worth revisiting multiple times? Is there substance to match their admittedly bewitching style? Does a joke become unfunny when you tell it to the same audience in 10 different ways? Can an indie-rock outfit preach about the Environment without getting all Danielson-in-that-new-bio-pic on us?

In this case, I’d have to say that despite an attractive physique and a litany of likeable traits, Hymns for a Darkhorse isn’t a record you’ll find yourself courting after the first, memorable One Night Stand if you consider yourself a left-of-the-dial listener. Bowerbirds comport themselves with dignity and extreme skill, but much like a forgettable movie, they give ticket buyers little reason to keep coming back after a reasonably successful first showing. Like most, I was helpless to resist the charms of “In Our Talons,” an early track that left this reviewer thinking he had found one of the few memorable folk albums of 2007, but once that shard of light is eclipsed by lesser tracks like “Human Hands” and “Bur Oak,” a slow comedown begins in earnest; before you know it you’ll be glancing at your watch, especially when “The Marbled Godwit” warbles and pinwheels in-place like an old fart looking for his car in a large parking lot.

And so on and so forth; songs blend together, the accordion, tambourine, and random rhythmic ‘clack’s that dance on the edges of practically every track start to wear on the gears of the mind, and the vocal arrangements do little to expand on the flourishes displayed within alpha-cuts “In Our Talons” and “Dark Horse.” It all adds up to a missed opportunity, as Bowerbirds have enough ability and networking ties at their disposal (a Pitchfork staffer operates their record label, and guess which site showered this disc with ‘Purchase Here’ praise a week-odd ago?) to make a huge dent in the indie apparatus. And they still could, as the potential for greatness is undoubtedly gleaming in Bowerbirds’ eyes like an unconceived child.

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