Thursday, July 24, 2014

Album Review: "Hidden Mothers EP" by Magpie Feast

Magpie Feast released "Hidden Mothers EP" on
July 13, 2014. Listen to it on their Bandcamp.
Nowadays if an artist is set to release a new recording there's usually quite a bit of pomp and fanfare. Album release shows, listening parties, you name it, basically any chance an artist gets to wedge their name in a new listener's ear is immediately pounced upon. That's what makes artists like Magpie Feast so refreshing, there's no self aggrandizing publicity that's filled with high praise from everyone and their mother. Magpie Feast relies solely on their music to do the talking for them, and dammit that music should be shouted from a mountaintop. Last year Magpie Feast's full-length Out of the Womb made its way to our Top 10 North Carolina albums list thanks to the band's rich storytelling, powerful instrumentation and blatantly awesome aura. Now the band has released a brand new EP Hidden Mothers rather unceremoniously. There was little more than a Facebook announcement to herald in the new release, but when you've got the deft songwriting skills that Matthew Southern and company do, you don't need a massive campaign to bring listener's to their knees begging for more.

Hidden Mothers EP isn't a grand departure from the act's previous work, but rather it finds the band digging deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole. There's much more orchestral string arrangements, but rather than adding grandiosity to these tracks they instead bring subtle layers of melody and harmony to the mix. The EP is bookended by two instrumental tracks, "Hidden Mothers Theme" builds tension and anticipation with a gradual build of acoustic guitar and rustic strings before slowly fading into the swaying sounds of "Moon Advises Crow." The three tracks that are nestled between these brief instrumental adventures are punctuated with sparse electric guitar and vibrant strings, yet driven by simplistic acoustic arrangements and Southern's quivering vocals.

"The Wolves Pt. 1" is arguably the track most indicative of Magpie Feast's prior sounds, it's filled with a myriad of compelling sounds that beckon the listener to dig deeper into the rather condensed arrangement. The banjo at the core of the song takes on an almost percussive element, it's harshly plucked and slowly drives the song along in addition to some distant percussive clatter and a particularly addictive wordless chorus.

By the time "The Mouse" rolls along we've yet to pass the ten-minute mark but it feels like the release has traversed a wide array of soundscapes, which makes the upbeat rhythms of the track feel all the more enjoyable. Vocal harmonies are much more pronounced and the track feels firmly rooted in traditional folk standards than the darker, somber tones of the rest of the EP. "The Mouse" transitions excellently into the equally upbeat, rambler "Goodnightshade,"a track that slowly unfurls with quaintly fingerpicked acoustic and ambient electric additions to end things on a dreamy, blissful note.

Hidden Mothers EP is a brief journey into the musical minds of Magpie Feast, clocking in under 15 minutes it's a nice teaser for the direction that the band may move forward with. There's plenty of new aesthetics that set this release apart from their previous work, but enough of their tried and true structure to placate fans expecting a riveting display of blues-folk goodness.

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