Review Summary: Starlit wankery; or, an aural panoramic of the Milky Way galaxy.
To understand Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
, a glance into Sarah Louise’s recent past is prudent. An acoustic artist at heart, Louise has now crafted three pastoral folk albums since 2015. She’s as technically skilled and dexterous as any guitarist out there, which is an obvious statement for fans of her Acoustic Vol. 12
. Field Guide
and Deeper Woods
were both examples of the heights to which the genre can aspire, blending pristine indie-folk with traces of Americana. Creating beautiful acoustic music is obviously no small feat, but it’s a task that can run out of creative wiggle room rather fast. On this fourth effort, Louise answers the question that all too many rut-dwelling folk songwriters find themselves asking: where on Earth do I go from here
？ The answer, ironically, is “well, nowhere on this
Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
is a highly experimental album that stretches listeners’ imaginations. Gone is the pretty strumming and melodic singing that has characterized Louise’s discography to date. Instead, enter long, meandering drone passages. Let the sounds of songbirds flow through your open window. Look out into the night sky as the stars shimmer to the echoed effect of sparkling acoustic guitars. This album is an aural panoramic of the Milky Way galaxy; breathtaking and frighteningly disorienting all at the same time. It’s definitely not just another day at the indie-folk office; that much is certain.
Sarah Louise all but foregoes vocals this time around too, opting to let her guitar work drive the album. As her acoustic prowess deftly steers Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
between shifting tones and energies, there’s an almost jarring discordance lurking beneath the surface; one born of raw energy that’s not quite sure how to burn itself off, catalyzed by an insatiable imaginative appetite. A cynic might describe it as starlit wankery – there’s repetitive strums, plucks, and chords for sure, but they swirl about within this exotic, celestial atmosphere. It’s comparable to Julia Holter’s Aviary
– a simultaneous compliment as well as a descriptor of the record’s overarching weirdness
. This is a challenging work of art, not a pleasant backdrop for your daily happenings.
However, it’s also the album’s bold, forward-thinking merits that characterize its greatness. There aren’t too many other records you can turn to and hear a song as warmly alienating as ‘Chitin Flight’ – a cut suspended within time and space, floating into the nether regions of the universe while eloquently strumming a detuned guitar. It’s also not every day that a track as vibrantly frenetic – yet somehow still spacious and tonally inclined – as ‘Ancient Intelligence’ comes along. My point in singling out tunes like these isn’t merely to posture them as “album highlights”, but rather to accent how rare
they sound from a musical standpoint. Not everything on Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
even sounds all that appealing; it’s a mixture of dissonantly droning synths, wailing vocal backdrops, and resplendent bursts of heavenward beauty. As a result, it can be difficult to truly enjoy
the album strictly from an aesthetic standpoint…but it’s almost impossible not to appreciate it for its daring aspirations and rare artistic vision.
Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
takes the leap that so many of Louise’s contemporaries refuse to. It’s a total stylistic departure – a far cry from the rural indie-folk that Sarah was churning out regularly for the last three years. In marrying the most wayward chord progressions with borderline-numbing ambience, she’s crafted an album that is not always listenable in the traditional sense, but that demands respect. It alternates between cold, emotionless soundscapes and warm, soulful flashes of guitar. Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars
fears not experimentation, and has the chops to occasionally shine through with awe-inspiring beauty. It’s worth it to not have a front-to-back ear pleaser when the peaks are this brilliant.