Fences is the sixth album by Bombadil, purveyors of a distinctly whimsical acoustic indie rock. It's their first as the trio of original member Daniel Michalak, longtime member James Phillips, and newcomer Stacy Harden. The ability to deliver lithe harmonies is a requirement for entry into this crew, and the transition to Harden is seamless, though Stuart Robinson, as a steady alternate lead vocalist, will be missed by some familiar with the group. The album follows their prior release by two years that included some soul searching, as Michalak considered disbanding Bombadil without a reliable lineup. It would seem Michalak himself is key to the band's musical brand, however, since Fences sounds very much like the return of an old friend. A notable quality this time around is efficient arrangements that make every note count. John Vanderslice produced the record and claimed minimal interference on songs and performances that he thought stood on their own. Like much of the album, "Binoculars" is deceptively simple and sweet. The ditty opens with acoustic guitar, vocals that build to three-part harmony, and eventual upright bass and piano. Lyrics start out people-watching but go on to reveal hurt and disappointment when, in the context of a relationship, "I see detail, of that I'm sure/But I don't see me and that hurts the most." Later, "Math and Love" takes a journey through fractions and sharing with similar instrumentation before noting "Math is just like our love/For each equation, two equals one." The song "Fence" compares the singer to a fence ("in your backyard"), and "Perfect" imagines a home in detail "where I would kiss you and you would like it." The latter features light percussion but the same wandering-troubadours impression. Throughout, the limited instrument palette exposes songwriting full of charming melodies and gently frolicking rhythms, alongside expressions of deep affection and insecurity. It's a refreshingly direct presentation, and a set that makes one root for the characters as well as the band, who will hopefully stick around for more.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson