The Clearing, North Carolina's Bowerbirds' third album, moves the band one broad step away from the rough-edged gothic ruralisms that characterized their first two full-lengths. The band and mood of the arrangements are the same -- an acoustic-leaning trio, strings -- but there is a far glossier edge to the proceedings. Once associated with the vague edge of the freak folk revival of the early- to mid-2000s, The Clearing places Bowerbirds squarely in a more considered place. On "Stich the Hem," hard hand percussion tapes and snare hits propel singer Philip Moore to a full-on indie rock explosion that blossoms into a bed of Beth Tacular's layered vocals while string swells gather in silvery pools beneath it all. For the most part -- as per usual -- there are few standard drum kits, but newfound drama and modern propulsion are everywhere. It's not quite a rock & roll backbeat, but the muted thump and minor chords that pulse behind the first verses of "In the Yard" and "Stitch the Hem" owe far more to Radiohead than Dock Boggs. And, for the most part, Bowerbirds are a better band for it, their sometimes winding songs seeming more taut than ever. The lyrics and general textures of the work remain as earthy as ever, swarming natural forces flowing in and out of their metaphors (and potential descriptors for the music) like rivers. But these are no campfire songs, if ever Bowerbirds even aspired to that. Rather, they are well-considered and emotional slabs of art-folk that owe Van Dyke Parks, the Weavers, and anybody else who sang lines like the title lyric of "Walk the Furrows," to audiences who wouldn't necessarily recognize a furrow if they tripped on one and fell in. Nearly all the tracks build to rousing, rock-like finales. But it is a far-away and lustrous America that Bowerbirds invite their listeners to, one where pyres burn in the yard ("This Year") and people elegantly consider their life problems as weighted branches ("Sweet Moment") -- one as far away as the crow flies.
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AllMusic Review by Jesse Jarnow