New York trio Bird Courage’s fourth studio album, Māia Manu (means ‘Bird Courage’ in Maori) offers a delectable collection of songs which stem from their various backgrounds and collective roots of playing in the subways of the Big Apple.
The band doesn’t have a single frontman, and it is the organic combination of all three of its members which makes their music so special. The project that became Bird Courage began when New York based buskers Sam (originally from New Zealand) and Erik (New Jersey) joined forces in the dark spaces under the city, coining an experimental folk sound driven by the purity of emotion. The duo teamed up with Sean McMahon in 2012 after meeting him at a Potion Collective open mic in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Māia Manu is the result of the addition of a third dimension to a group driven by powerful vocal harmonies and multi-instrumental acoustics. An instant connection was formed between the three musicians; the desire to look into the eyes and sing into the hearts of real people.
The album is the coming together of music celebrating the human heart, the land and stars. On reflecting about his move to the city, New England born Sean revealed how a friend once told him, ‘New York is the centre of the universe’ – complimenting the group’s belief in the connectivity of the earth and sky. Despite the hustle and frequently exhausting pace of city life, New York has inspired Bird Courage to shift and convert negative energy through the power of music. As Albert Ayler once said, ‘Music is the healing force of the universe’, and Māia Manu represents this idea as a record capable of healing even the deepest of wounds.
The album kicks off with the beautiful, harmony-infused Stone, which crescendos with the multi-layering of instruments introduced individually during the track. The dropping in and out of layers of both instruments and vocals is something that occurs throughout the album.
The record really comes to life with the superb Constellation, which, reflecting the groups interest in the cosmos, takes the listener on a journey ‘Tracing constellations’ through the sky.
Despite using only simple percussion, and often reducing their vocals to whispers, as is the case in Reconstruction Manual, Bird Courage are able to create atmospheric songs surely capable of filling even the largest venues. Some tracks such as Knives arguably the best song on the album – tackle tougher issues but never fail to lose any of the raw splendour which is so fantastically consistent throughout.
There are a couple of slower songs on the album, namely Oval Sails and Reeds, but again, their pace doesn’t lose any of the prevalent optimism. The penultimate track on the album Home demonstrates the group’s contentment for writing and playing their music in New York. Despite mounting acclaim, which will only augment further with this record, Bird Courage can still be found playing their music on the streets where their project was born. Listen to this record and you will understand why they are responsible for so many New Yorkers missing trains on their daily commute…
Review by: Harry Shepherd
Bird Courgae will be touring the North East of USA in December with UK folk band The Melodic:
12/3 | Arlington, VA | Iota
12/4 | Asbury Pk, NJ | The Saint
12/5 | Philly, PA | North Star Bar
12/6 | New Haven, CT | Cafe Nine
12/7 | Cambridge, MA | Middle East
12/8 | Burlington, VT | Higher Ground Showcase
12/9 | NY, NY | Mercury Lounge