Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Fox and the Bird balance sobriety and beauty in their folk

September 18, 2011

During my travels this summer, I had the good fortune to see The Fox and the Bird play live. Their serious-minded folk tunes had a familial warmth that made them fun to hear, despite their overt lack of cuteness or kitsch. It was quite nice to hear a sober-minded folk band, what with all the indie quirk to which I’ve become accustomed.

The band’s album Floating Feather delivers much of the same. If anything, they amp up both sides of their equation; the band sounds even more stately than they do live, but that highly organized sound allows for delicate, loving instrumental touches to stand out.

This is best shown on “Women in the Kitchen,” a heartfelt lament about original sin that features banjo, stand-up bass, guitar and glorious group harmonies. It conveys the deep sadness of the situation without getting maudlin or telegraphing “THIS IS SAD” (it’s not sparse, nor is it “dark” or slow). The band relies on emotive instrumental and vocal performances paired with a great set of lyrics to get the point across.

And that’s ultimately what’s so good about The Fox and the Bird. They can come off as a bit sterile compared to heart-on-sleeve acts like Mumford, but just because the band isn’t going for the jugular doesn’t mean they aren’t pumping blood through every vein. “Oldest Old” is another desperately sad song conveyed through vocals, performances and lyrics. It was striking live (especially way they frame the violin line), and it’s just the same recorded.

Another standout is “Hey Sister,” the closer. The band picked it well, as it reiterates many of the themes through the album (family, traveling, sadness, beautiful songwriting, great vocals) and filters it into a conclusion. You should end your next mixtape for a girl with it.

Floating Feather is an excellent album that balances beauty and sobriety. You can sing along, read to it, or drive to it late at night. You will almost certainly feel like you’ve heard the songs already, because your connection with them will be forged that quickly. Do yourself a favor and pick up Floating Feather.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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