At the end of January, The Body shredded what was left of our nerves with I’ve Seen All I Need To See, while April welcomed BIG|BRAVE releasing an album of the year contender with VITAL.
The Body and BIG|BRAVE have always occupied similar sound worlds, not least sharing the same producer, Seth Manchester (Lingua Ignota). However, those expecting The Body to pit their raging hellscapes of noise against BIG|BRAVE’s bowel-twitching drones are set for disappointment; adjust your ears, because these two collectives combine to create something completely different from the aforementioned world in which they occupy.
On paper, this seemed like the redefinition of noise in waiting, however paper and practice are undoubtedly two different propositions. The Body and BIG|BRAVE showcase this in what is perhaps the surprise of 2021, with Leave None But Small Birds.
For the most part, Leave None But Small Birds is an open-field folk album. A trudge through the dusty roads, half-mended fences, tall grass, abandoned outhouses and campfire ashes. There’s a tender, feminine thread that clearly runs through the spine of Leave None But Small Birds.
Enter Robin Wattie, whose performance is as much a surprise as it is unyielding. The BIG|BRAVE leader adds another dimension to her already impressive performance on BB’s genre-defining VITAL.
Rather than the usual scolding via BIG|BRAVE, Wattie’s violet-shrieks are dialled down, where she finds a subtle range and a newfound terrain of storytelling.
The yarn-spinning begins with Blackest Crow; a tale for the subjugated and marginalised. These are themes that pick up where BIG|BRAVE’s Half Breed left off. Sonically, Blackest Crow brims with the origins of British folk, with Chip King and Lee Buford gently sliding in drones that ripple beneath the mix.
On Oh Sinner, Mathieu Ball finds space between Tasreen Hudson and Buford’s rhythms, filling out the sound with the same richness that frequents VITAL. It’s a case of telepathy, and having played together for so long, he and Wattie’s partnership continues to go from strength-to-strength.
Hard Times is arguably the closest either band get to the aesthetics and guises we’ve previously known. An atmospheric stomp with plucky arpeggios and tremor-like drones that, with headphones, seems like the space between heaven and hell.
The heartbreak lament of Once I Had A Sweetheart is a multi-layered number combing traditional folk and head-splitting drone. The result is probably the most accessible thing either band has committed to tape.
Alongside Hudson, Wattie presents the Appalachian-inspired Polly Gosford, which again illuminates the aforementioned themes of suppression and also misogyny.
It bleeds into the barren landscape where rumbling drones ripple through the surface like an earthquake on closing track, Babes in the Woods. Wattie is once again accompanied by Hudson in a tale that sounds like some frightening representation of a nursery rhyme.
We are usually sparked into action by the glorious sonic maelstroms The Body and BIG|BRAVE heap upon us, but on Leave None But Small Birds the tides have completely turned. It’s Wattie’s lyrical themes that provide the darkest brush strokes across this canvass, with everything else fleeting yet faint within the overall picture.
Together, it’s a collaboration that sees both bands acting well outside the parameters of their comfort zones. Indicative of the unique quality that both bands possess, The Body and BIG|BRAVE revel emphatically in this space.
Leave None But Small Birds is out Friday via Thrill Jockey. Purchase from Bandcamp.