Spiritual indie folk that feels as sentimental as it does familiar.
Bird Courage -Māia Manu
Welcome to the twenty-first century, a time when digital methods of acquiring, sharing, and creating files ensure that independent musicians will face extreme difficulty surviving off their art. It’s an odd contradiction – although computers, the Internet, and cyber-whatnot brutally slaughter the finances of modern creators, these same forces advance better recording techniques and help underground musicians gain traction. Even though today’s songwriters suffer massively from what essentially amounts to art theft, so many unknown acts have emerged as of late that it may seem like more music is being produced now than ever before. While this abundance of art exposes curious listeners to an unprecedented plethora of new sounds, it places a troubling burden on new musicians: with so many great songs impacting modern listeners, how does one write music unique and novel enough to demand attention without sacrificing sincerity and passion?
Bird Courage, the Brooklyn trio of Samuel Saffery, Erik Meier, and Sean McMahon, may not yet have the answer to the question posed herein, but it doesn’t impede their songwriting ability. Despite the group’s clear influences (their approach to folk rock virtually mimics that of critical sages Fleet Foxes), their debut, Māia Manu, often afflicts just as a great record should. Indeed, many successful moments fill the album, but flaws can be heard as well. These mistakes never offend, but instead feel plain and unexciting as compared to their more gratifying surroundings.
The inherent pleasures of Maia Maru are apparent from the album’s first notes. The hushed, deep acoustic guitar notes that hollow out opener “Stone” immediately establish this album’s folk aspirations. Erik Meier’s voice appears only moments later, quickly confirming the direction Bird Courage will take throughout the remaining nine tracks. “Mayshower” reaffirms the barren folk motif that the tracks preceding it suggest; “Knives” further refines this theme in its first half. The latter track, despite its beginning similarly to a few other songs, accounts for one of the more surprisingly glorious moments on the album: about halfway through, light pianos enter, and coalesce with ripe vocal harmonies and forceful, hastened guitars for a brief passage that echoes psych-folk heroes Grizzly Bear.
Psych-folk mannerisms pop up infrequently on Māia Manu, but comprise the moments when Bird Courage best stand out from the pack. However, besides “Knives,” only album highlight “Reeds” really embraces this style. The track gets by on dim pianos and high-pitched background vocal harmonies, and leads to a sparkling, memorable buildup. Outside the minor psychedelic moments found here, though, Bird Courage tends to repeat the same indie folk themes while failing to expand on them in any way. “Wanderer” and “Oval Sails”, for example, fail to impact as heavily as other tracks due to their not-so-subtle Fleet Foxes worship. Elsewhere, “Constellation” and “Reconstruction Manual” change direction unexpectedly, but these sudden turns feel somewhat hollow and not fully genuine.
Even at its least believable, though, Māia Manu aches alluringly. Even when the songs veer into more perplexing territory, they never achieve complete staleness. Rather, they indicate that Bird Courage is still figuring out how to sculpt its own sound without completely imitating their forebears, a noble mission in these times. They succeed decently often for a band so young; in fact, if they do so more frequently on future works, they may just find themselves receiving the same sort of respect their idols attain.