When incessant collaborators The Body and doom wanderers BIG|BRAVE announced they had a joint album in the works, you’d have been forgiven for expecting the soundtrack to a horror movie; you might not have anticipated that the movie in question would be The Wicker Man.
Leaving None But Small Birds sees the two acts come together to produce a work unlike anything previously heard from either band, though considering the increasingly diverse scope of sounds weaponised in The Body’s recorded output, particularly their shared albums, this does not come as a huge surprise. The album traces its course through a number of Appalachian, Canadian and English hymns and folk songs, each reworked lyrically and musically for the sake of cohesion.
We’re told that BIG|BRAVE have roots in minimal folk music, but given that these roots are not freely available to hear most people will have first encountered the band in their current guise, in which their weaving, glacial arrangements enclose the listener only to suddenly part, letting Robin Wattie’s voice take crucial centre stage. On BIG|BRAVE’s mainline records, she keeps driving pace within the rattling doom framework of the music. Here however, the speed limit is lifted and she is free to experiment with a wider variety of pacing and melody, showcasing the elasticity in her voice and drawing deserved attention to one of the most exciting singers operating in aggressive music right now.
Beyond the stylistic shift, this is absolutely an interpretation of folk rooted in heavy music: snare drums snap wildly and acoustic leads have spiky percussive qualities of their own. The physical instrument is felt throughout, its materials and heft captured. The Body’s Lee Buford cites the folk output of The Band as the kernel from which the the album evolved, and having previously drawn on their various inspirations to create albums comprised of ‘gross pop’ (No One Deserves Happiness), electronic noise (I Shall Die Here), and home made samples (I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer), we’re left wondering in which direction Buford’s far ranging record collection will take the band next.
Songs cover a range of township tragedies from murder to lost love; standout ‘Hard Times’ tells a tale of child factory labourers, Wattie’s voice set to a droning, off kilter melody that speaks to the repetition, confusion and sadness inherent in the setting and story. Given the broad set of source material selected for adaptation and inclusion, what perhaps surprises most is how resolved and coherent the album is. Factoring in the experimentation on display from all musicians involved this is even more impressive; it will be fascinating to see how the successes here find their way back into the future output of both bands, or whether the Appalachian trail ahead instead holds yet more wild right turns.
Leaving None But Small Birds is out via Thrill Jockey on October 1st and can be ordered here.
Words: Luke Jackson