Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
As this essay is being written, the Fourth of July holiday is two days away and there are firecracker stands offering weak representations in the states (like this one - the home state of Bowerbirds singer and songwriter Phil Moore) where they're essentially banned. There don't exist those huge interstate-side, warehouse attractions like Merle's Explosion City or Foreworks U.S.A. Everything here, like most places in the country, is covered in the patriotic red, white and blue of the American flag and it's a smorgasbord for imagery of a certain kind - the bald eagles, cannons, flashy lights and smoke, multiple-gun salutes, the Star-Spangled Banner, veterans, majestic mountains and a surplus of corn-on-the-cob, baseball games, auto races and old-fashioned sunburns replete with blisters and unsightly peeling. There's bunting draped along porches and the lawn chairs have been packed into the back of the pick-up truck with the ice chest full of some cheap domestic swill. It's this imagery that is the commercialized, in a sense, vision of what it is to live here and be able to just roam and cross state lines with ease, do anything you please. They are images that affect people in some of the strongest ways, giving them pride or giving fuel to foolish displays of strength or false dignity when threatened. It's what many think of when they think of America - the regalia, the emblems, the anthems, the blood spilled and the freedom. Someone I know thinks and talks about someday wanting to just buy a piece of property out in the country, put a little house on it and use it as a getaway, a place where he can just go to "shoot guns, ride ATVs and, basically just be a free American." It's essentially how he looks at the freedom that is supposed to exist here. Moore and the Bowerbirds - including Beth Tacular and new drummer Matt Damron - have just as immersive and exact definition of the freewill and ability to exist without the ripple getting too far from them - a place and a connection to others that just IS without having to be felt or expounded upon. It's a naturalistic temper that they give to every ounce of blood that moves through our bodies, every ounce of sap that pushes through the barks of forgotten, ignored or loved trees and every ounce of water that travels downstream or through the leaves and stems of the plants that we try not to disturb with our clumsy soles. The imagery that Moore takes full advantage of on the band's stunning debut, "Hymns For A Dark Horse," is equal to that which he used as his jumping off point for the band's equally stunning "Upper Air," taking us out into the woods and telling us to just listen to everything that's happening, feel our bodies reacting to whatever they need to be reacting to. Moore uses the trees and the water, the wind passing nimbly through leaves and kissing bare skin as if there is nothing else of importance, as if we're conjoined together so exactly and specially by these natural elements that it should feel like some kind of a perfect unity - something much stronger than a pledge, a flag, a bald eagle or certain colors. Moore finds new ways to bring us to these hauntingly intimate points of light, where the ground meets our feet and where there's calm waters and a serenity that belies any turbulence that may well be blowing through the air. He takes us to these points of reckoning, these places of dreamy compatibility between the soul and the flesh, making us all seem like deserving creatures if we'll just embrace it. The badness that befalls us can be ironed out by keen observation and thinking about us all being these trees and rivers, with root systems and cycles and dependence upon others. It can be ironed out by taking Moore's hint to enjoy the acting of simply breathing, of feeling the sweetness in that air taking over all of your parts, to close your eyes and feel no separation between you and the day, you and the mountain crests and the lush valleys keep vigorous by pollinating bees, sporadic rain showers of different temperatures and something like magic. These are all interchangeable parts and as Moore sings on "Northern Lights," "I don't need you to catch m wandering mind/I don't expect a southern girl to know the northern lights/All I want is your eyes/In the morning as we wake, for a short while," we can share it all together though it doesn't mean that we'll share it alike. There may not be room enough for us all to get the same out of it. It's going to get ruined for someone, maybe you.
Bowerbirds Official Page
Dead Oceans Records