There’s a breathtaking stillness to John Moreland’s new album, Birds in the Ceiling, as if he’s quietly pondering an array of questions. The beauty is that, listening to it, we feel as if we’re sitting in a room with him and he’s singing each song to us alone.
The album opens with the quiet, haunting “Ugly Faces,” an introspective meditation on the distance between the way we are and the way we’d like to be. Lush piano and guitar flow over shuffling syncopation as the music evokes the halting ways we move back and forth in relationships. Moreland sings about the struggle to grasp beauty that is just out of reach.
Percolating percussion and swirling synths provide the backdrop for Moreland’s opulent guitars and vocals on “Lion’s Den”—an eddying piece that lays plain feelings of disconnection (“I’m a visitor here, like everywhere else”). The song closes with tentative hopefulness that we can find ways to connect through assimilation, adaptation, or transformation.
Moreland’s soulful vocals probe the vagaries of family connections in “Generational Dust,” which slides from folk to Philadelphia soul to jazz, riding along his lissome and graceful guitar work.
The highlight of the album may be “Neon Middle June,” an atmospheric love song that portrays two lovers navigating the distance that dwells within the sweetness of being close. Living with each other during the kaleidoscopic lights of the pandemic—“epidemic blues”—the singer recognizes that “love is complicated, like any living thing /And time continues working with an unrelenting hand.” Even so, he asks his lover to “draw the curtain, there’s so much to understand.”
The album closes with the title track, a spare song that features mostly Moreland’s vocals and guitar, with a touch of synth to emulate the sounds of birds. Filled with airy hopefulness, the song urges acceptance of others and the world around us without imposing our own expectations on them. The final line contemplates the certainty of death within the beauty of life.
Moreland’s songwriting keeps getting better and better. Birds in the Ceiling brilliantly captures the insistent human struggle between being alone and being with others; between the desires of the individual and the demands of community; between the ravages of despair and the rewards of love.
Birds in the Ceiling is available HERE.