It’s been about eight years since Bowerbirds‘ last full-length release. They used to be a trio led by the singer-songwriter Phil Moore and his partner Beth Tacular. The two had a child and then split up. Frontperson Moore currently directs the latest record, becalmyounglovers, whose songs concern his processing of the end of their relationship and who he is now. As such, the music is melancholy and introspective. Even songs about seemingly happier times, such as “Revel, Revel” and “The Party”, are tinged with sadness. The truth may set one free, but despite what John Keats famously said, it isn’t always beautiful.
Moore wrote and recorded the 12 songs on becalmyounglovers at various times over the past six years with the help of Bon Iver drummer Matt McCaughan, multi-instrumentalist Alex Bingham (Hiss Golden Messenger), vocalist Libby Rodenbough (Mipso), and others. Despite the presence of other personnel, the album has a lonesome sensibility. Moore intimately addresses the audience and discusses private topics. He uses informal language (i.e., “Ain’t nothin’ like the real world”) and describes personal desires (i.e., “Will I ever know your warmth again?”) in familiar terms. That suggests Moore feels comfortable sharing because, on a certain level, it is an audience of one he is singing to—himself.
That’s not to say Moore can’t be oblique and even poetic. Consider these lines from “All This Rain”: “It’s like a rodeo in the dark of night / Now show me all the wonder when I’m dry / Don’t you want to feel like a little kid.” The meaning of these lyrics is unclear. Presumably, Moore’s referring to memories to which his listeners don’t have access. The album is full of such confidential references. One’s appreciation of the album is somewhat determined by how much one values such mysterious sentiments. This is an album of self-discovery.
Moore wants to learn who he is because his divorce has left him confused about his identity. He puts this coyly at the end of “Can You Beleeb”: “Now you’re the shape that I’ve been molded to / But who am I and who are you.” Is he the person he was with his wife or someone completely different now they have broken up? He can’t decide, but he chooses to look forward rather than back. Making this album itself manifests his belief in moving on.
The results are uneven, as some cuts demonstrate Moore’s resolve and others showcase his bafflement. Life is complicated. Sometimes things happen that one can’t predict or have control over despite one’s best intentions (i.e., “The cancer comes like a train in the night”). The musical arrangements surrounding the lyrics are usually quiet, as if he is daydreaming in a dark room. Even the most dramatic moments come off as lowkey incidents if one is not listening intently.
Moore ends the album with the somber “Everyday Life”. He declares with a clear mind that “Nothing lasts forever”. He navigates the difference between who he was and who he is with a shrug. Moore is now Bowerbirds rather than part of a collective. Things have changed. They are always changing. That’s life.