The term “hopeless romantic” is a bit of a misnomer. Being a romantic actually hinges on the idealism and sentimentality of hope — an assurance that magic between souls is possible. And yet the absence of romance can render this kind of a person absolutely hopeless.
Phil Moore seems to sing of this contradiction on “Seems Impossible,” the second song off his North Carolina folk-rock group Bowerbirds’ fourth LP, becalmyounglovers. “Left our home in the cool of night / Everything right in the world / Just the two old souls and the end of times / Everything else has to burn,” he coos, foreshadowing both the improbability of meeting one’s match in this lifetime and the seemingly impossible realities of dealing with that relationship’s dissolution.
Bowerbirds’ return — it’s their first full-length release since 2012, though they released two EPs in 2020 — is by all counts a breakup record. What burns in “Seems Impossible” continues to arch and flare in the succeeding “Pennies,” as Moore continues, “When the fire won’t listen / I’m reaching for the wind for now.” Recorded over the course of six years, the album traces the relationship arc between Moore and founding Bowerbirds member Beth Tacular, who is also an established visual artist. It chronicles their untangling of selves, both as individuals and bandmates, but acknowledges how they’ll be forever entwined as parents and collaborators.
Much of becalmyounglovers therefore grapples with self-identification and actualization. There’s the exceptionalism Moore felt in “The Rules,” in which his falsetto wavers over twangy guitars; there’s the anger and blame of “Moon Phase,” even though they’re tucked away behind the pedal steel breezes of an acoustic guitar ballad.
Despite the fire and grief, nostalgia, and fear, becalmyounglovers is an oddly gentle-sounding record. Fiddles and synths ring over the deep bassline in “Revel Revel” and a quiet piano plinks in the ballad of futility, “All This Rain.” And in the two-minute whispering “Sweet Dissonance,” one of beautiful, yet tragic highlights of the 12-track album, Moore concludes the acoustic song of acceptance with a melodic upswing toward hope.
Most powerfully, Mipso multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Libby Rodenbough provides sweet, feminine harmonies across becalmyounglovers. Their sounds of togetherness complicate Moore’s depictions of uncoupling and solitude. But that juxtaposition — that attempt to find a sense of truth within conflicting identities — is precisely what makes becalmyounglovers such an affecting record.