The Body and Big|Brave are both known for their takes on pulverizing, minimalist postmetal, but their new collaborative album, Leaving None but Small Birds (Thrill Jockey), gazes at the infinite possibilities of traditional folk music through a warped and weathered all-seeing eye. Crafted in the studio with engineer-producer Seth Manchester (a frequent collaborator of the Body and Lingua Ignota), Leaving None but Small Birds pushes the boundaries of everyone involved, making a seismic stylistic shift to muse on love, loss, and vengeance with homespun sounds. This about-face yields a photo negative of each band’s previous output, and as surprising as that is, it’s also clearly deliberate: the Body drummer and programmer Lee Buford aimed to evoke the twangy folk-rock of the Band, while Big|Brave front woman Robin Wattie endeavored to reinvent lyrics from Appalachian, Canadian, and English hymns and traditional songs. She shapes their perennial phrases to fit her character studies of the disenchanted and disenfranchised, telling new tales of strife, marginalization, and yearning.
Opening track “Blackest Crow” lends melody to the throes of grief with thrumming violin by Morgan Eve Swain and droning guitar from the Body’s Chip King, while “Hard Times” immortalizes child factory laborers and “spinning room babies.” The record’s high-water mark, the modern murder ballad “Polly Gosford,” addresses the feeling of alienation and provides the album its title: “He covered her grave / And hastened home / Leaving none but small birds / Her fate to bemoan.” The brightest points of the seven-song suite are found in the unexpected: Buford and Big|Brave drummer Tasy Hudson shirk bombast in favor of a steady percussive backbone throughout the record, and on “Once I Had a Sweetheart,” Wattie and Hudson combine their voices gloriously. Individually, the Body and Big|Brave make music that could move mountains. With Leaving None but Small Birds, they seem to ponder what songs might ring within their valleys and hollows.
Leaving None but Small Birds is available from Thrill Jockey Records.