It will undoubtedly be mentioned in every review of The Clearing that Bowerbirds recorded the LP in Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio. While this fact invariably gives the band some street cred, the North Carolinian duo have been making sparse, nature-infused folk for quite some time. Their music is woodsy and homespun, but feels deeply authentic—Philip Moore and Beth Tacular are the real deal, not city folk who stumbled upon some flannel (they even built themselves a cabin in the woods). The Wisconsin studio certainly adds a healthy dose of polish, but it doesn’t smooth the edges too much; while The Clearing is more expansive and layered than Upper Air or Hymns for a Dark Horse, it stays true to the band’s introspective spirit.
This album is the beautiful result of a rough period, filled with break-ups and reconciliations, loss and recovery. For all its grim back story and dark subject matter, though, there’s a hopefulness to it: “Overcome with Light” features the uplifting line: ”yes ,we had some hard work, but now it’s right.” Whether that refers to the construction of their isolated cabin, their relationship, or the grieving process almost doesn’t matter; it speaks to the pair moving forward. The building energy on songs like “Walk the Furrows” or single “Tuck the Darkness In” propels the album, and captures the very real passion behind their emotional journeys. However vulnerable the lyrics, the album also showcases power, growth, and catharsis.
In that sense, Bowerbirds have upped the ante: the many textures that make up The Clearing enable the band to tell a more nuanced story. It’s their most intimate work yet, even though they’ve added layers rather than strip them down. In the end, this album is just as much about Philip and Beth as Bowerbirds has ever been—but they’ve grown, and we’re lucky to be along for the ride.