Birds and Arrows' third album, Coyotes, recalls one of those HGTV house-porn programs: The camera tracks the elegant environs, wending through a spaciously designed and gorgeously apportioned home. Cellos, violins and pedal steel are the subtle sonic touches that line the loping country-folk and harmony-laden foundation, adding color like artichoke lamps or glimmering glass art. Meanwhile, the pretty vocals of Andrea and Pete Connolly hover in almost every frame, suggesting intertwining sashes slung from the rafters. It's something to behold.
But this particular palette is largely autumnal, with somber earth tones and retreating light, musically underpinned with dragging rhythms. Coyotes is keenly crafted and expressive, but its narrow range of emotional notes sometimes makes its beauty claustrophobic. This isn't an indictment of the husband and wife duo, whose vocal interplay imbues the songs with great life. Individually, these are beautiful songs; taken as a whole, though, they suggest a tony uptown house showing so well-staged that you wonder if anyone still lives there. Even the album's most upbeat song, the sprightly acoustic-dub ditty "Rest of Your Life," has a downbeat undertow that amplifies (and reverses) the lyrical sentiment, "You take the sadness and see a beautiful story to tell." It's one of the album's most inventive tracks, deploying a multitude of effects from theremin to handclaps. Still, by the end, it feels more like an elegy than an ode.
The album is brightest in its first quarter, which comprises the lilting soft-rock of "Out in the Garden," the aforementioned reggae-folk tune and the Eastern-tinged opener "Firefly." But then it's all slumbering waltzes and drifters. Though impeccably crafted, the rest of the album suffers for the lack of an effective change of pace or two.
Still, almost any of these tracks could become your personal favorite. The loping country-blues of "Orion" lands somewhere between Eagles-era Linda Ronstadt and Concrete Blonde's ballad, "Joey." The anthemic ode to commitment, "Anywhere But Here," is graceful and positive. "Sunday Night Blues" hosts haunting banjo picking and a sweet ragtime-tinged piano break.
The album's two best tracks are "Inside Out" and "Safety." "Inside Out" is a shambling, Pete-sung winner with a bedroom symphony vibe and lovely sing-song melody. Fueled by Andrea Connolly's husky croon, "Safety" is the apogee of their shuffling baroque-roots sound, noting the thin line between emotional protection and isolation in the chorus: "Safety can break your heart, the bones you would grow when you are young, fight to stay alive, not to grow apart, safety can break your heart." It's the perfect mix of harrowing delicacy and beatific refinement.
After all, there's no disputing the craftsmanship. Birds and Arrows have fashioned an album of wonderful appearances, but its moody patois and laconic elegance make it less welcoming than the individual songs might imply. Like art that finds the magic in decay, Coyotes divines the sadness that lives within beauty, but sometimes a little of that goes a long way.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Reset and serve."