The Body & BIG|BRAVE – Leaving None But Small Birds

Guess who’s back already?

Yes, it’s Big Brave who we recently featured on our blog! Big Brave joins forces with The Body, an outfit hailing from Portland who are also hard to categorize but sprouted as a sludge act and evolved far beyond that scene in the twenty years of their existence. Just like their Montreal counterparts they also released new work of their own earlier this year. We didn’t discuss it over here but it is well worth a listen if you have some time on your hands. For now it’s time to turn our attention to this collaboration album, called Leaving None But Small Birds which, just so you know in advance, heavily draws from North American folk and British traditions and combines the best both bands have to offer.

The album is set in motion with Blackest Crow which in almost eight minutes breathes out an atmosphere that would fit any modern Western score. Relaxing strumming and a wandering mandolin seem like an ideal backdrop to scenes to for example the Deadwood TV series. By day, that is. As you might know, nightfall on the show also means that the main characters continue to work on their devious schemes. Exactly this foreboding nature is added to the opener by Robin Wattie’s haunting voice. Blackest Crow is therefore no carefree stroll through the musical heritage of the nineteenth century. Both bands set their best food forward making every sound count and slowly bring in heavier dissonants to the table at end. You would expect dissonant galore from here but instead they restrain themselves on Oh Sinner to follow a well-trodden path. The track’s mellow pace doesn’t reflect the apocalyptic lyrics at first. Guitars just consistently follow along while Wattie draws us a picture of the world disintegrating before our eyes. This contradiction is resolved not long after Wattie introduces the seven headed beast which serves a cue for The Body to fill up the rustic sonical pallet with some tension building deep droning. So, even for The Body and Big Brave, blood still is thicker than water.

One just one occasion the album sounds truly folky. Black is the Colour is a bittersweet love song with only vocals and bare guitar play. Basics like these are present in other tracks. On Hard Times Wattie’s brings about a monody that addresses the grind of factory child laborers. Although things feel sparse it’s the stretched out droning in the end that fills up the emptiness with an evil warmth. Closer Babes in the Woods, about kidnapped children dying in the woods, takes the same approach in reverse. Amp hums and a slow moving melody pass by and while it dies off Wattie and drummer Tasy Hudson close up in traditional stomping fashion. On Polly Gosford the collaboration between both bands is heard best. Firstly, because it’s raw narrative is pieced together from several Appalachian, Canadian and British death ballads.The lyrics also serves as the main inspiration for the album title: “He covered her grave and hastened home. Leaving none but small birds, her fate to bemoan”. Secondly, because Big Brave’s and The Body’s expertise in combining distorted guitars and heavy rhythms comes together in full glory. It gives the track a very ominous feel. Polly Gosford is a prime example of how folk music can be reinvented and in this case can become even more tragic.

It’s obvious that Robin Wattie’s commanding vocals and The Body’s heavy soundscaping form the album’s backbone. This alone is a great achievement. It’s however too shallow to just say that Leaving None But Small Birds only serves up folk with an alt-metal twist. This work is best understood as a bunch of musicians looking to the past, exploring macabre stories and reinterpreting them in their own manner. Therefore the album also is a way to understand history as a constant but as something that keeps changing through the looking glass of new generations. If you look at it like that, you’ll have to agree that The Body’s and Big Brave’s project also delivers something meaningful to the vast catalogue of heavy music.

Label: Thrill Jockey, 2021

Buy it here: http://thrilljockey.com/products/leaving-none-but-small-birds 

Tracklist: 

  1. Blackest Crow (07:47)
  2. Oh Sinner (04:34)
  3. Hard Times (07:16)
  4. Once I Had a Sweetheart (05:28)
  5. Black Is the Color (04:31)
  6. Polly Gosford (03:58)
  7. Babes in the Woods (04:51)

Line-up: 

  • Lee Buford – The Body – drums, programming
  • Chip King – The Body – guitars
  • Seth Manchester – The Body – engineering
  • Morgan Eve Swain – The Body – violin
  • Robin Wattie – BIG|BRAVE – guitar, vocals
  • Tasy Hudson – BIG|BRAVE – drums, vocals
  • Mathieu Ball – BIG|BRAVE – guitar

Review by Wander Meulemans // 081021

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