Review: Ben McElroy – Bird-Stone

coverI’m inside a structure that both inhabits nature and shuts it out. A log cabin in the forest, perhaps. Just how this log cabin turns trees into a familiar artificial structure, Bird-Stone pulls from the serenity of the arboreal landscape while trying to divorce it from its brisk, untamed home of the outdoors. By channelling a very human, folk-centric sensibility through instruments of resonant wood (the hums circulating the bodies of cellos, the violins pirouetting across the ceiling), McElroy enacts an analogy to the relationship between people and nature, based on the contradiction that sees us both embrace the liberated will of our environment and break it in the name of anthropocentric interest.

Even the improvisation, which alludes to the unruly growth of plant life with its swoops and curls of sudden instinct, stays safely within the confines of major key. Finger-plucked guitars drift like lazy, contented passages of conversation. Strings flicker like firelight splashing the surrounding walls. The drones of cellos and soft electronics anchor each piece to the earth, bringing warmth and stability to the woven improvisatory nest of “Surely There Are Worse Things” or the two-chord sway of “That Was The Day”. Yet in the spoken passages on Bird-Stone, McElroy quietly betrays the very tranquility he sustains elsewhere. While all may seem well in these cocoons of self-imposed serenity, the album hints toward the imminent collapse of the planet, as marked by the depletion of organic resources and the insidious destruction of human-accelerated climate change. It’s only on the final track, whose strings start to quiver in microtonal unease, that the unsavoury truth starts to press against the windows.