Leaving None But Small Birds does what a lot of collaborations between established artists are afraid to do. The Body and BIG|BRAVE both make loud, visceral music so one would reasonably expect a collaboration to be loud and visceral. Well, half that equation is correct, but where Leaving None But Small Birds absolutely triumphs is in the unexpected way both groups strip back what they do to find their rawest, most elemental connections and combine them in a way that channels ancient, folkloric roots. It’s an absolute trip.
Lyrically, BIG|BRAVE’s Robin Wattie scoured Appalachian, Canadian, and English hymns and folk songs and used those as inspiration and motivation, combining words and melodies from across the spectrum. Tales of the forgotten and vengeance hymnals emerge from organic aural silhouettes, just as heavy as expected but from an emotional standpoint rather than a sonic one. Everything comes together in such a special way that Leaving None But Small Birds ends up being one of the year’s most memorable and unexpected albums.
Opener “Blackest Crow” bounds headfirst into the burning fields, shruti box drones, and plodding rhythms creating a blackened concrete base for Wattie’s hypnotic melody. The violin leads peppered throughout are a mesmerizing beacon, looping through empty passages as if descending from the heavens. It’s dense, prodding, but held aloft by dark enchantments imbued in the grating riffs. Similar threads run through the outcast determination of “Once I Had a Sweetheart” and the anthemic bite of “Polly Gosford.”
Feathery autoharp chords resonate like burning pyres against the midnight backdrop on “Black is the Colour,” with Wattie joined by BIG|BRAVE drummer Tasy Hudson in a bewitching, harmonizing duet. Even as the quietest song on the album, it hits hard. In contrast, sonically, closer “Babes in the Woods,” grinds out the headiest snarl and breathes deepest in subterranean zones, but there’s an unsettling lightness within as it moves like molasses through pulverizing chord progressions before devolving into an a capella chants about kidnapped children.
At first, it may seem like The Body and BIG|BRAVE inexplicably made something wispy and nebulous, but the truth is Leaving None But Small Birds is a different kind of heavy and can carry the load of any of their own records. It’s not easy, especially for two groups as well known and remarkable as BIG|BRAVE and The Body, to come together and make something that sounds almost nothing like the separate parts yet still carries that spirit in spades, but that’s exactly what they’ve done. For that, Leaving None But Small Birds is extraordinary.
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