The last record from Michigan folk trio Breathe Owl Breathe, 2010′s Magic Central, was a disarming collection of playful but poignant songs about things like dragons and cave dancers and parrots in tropical trees. Its follow-up, Passage of Pegasus, has a bit less magic, instead taking on a more somber tone throughout its 10 tracks. Micah Middaugh is a beautiful storyteller with his singular, lilting baritone, and the songs here are still built on references to nature — carving out canyon beds (“Sandstone), cacti pointing the way (“Hologram”) and the moon as a disco ball (“Silent Movie Reel”) — but this time there’s more exploration of loss and loneliness.
In “Ferns Move,” over delicate acoustic guitar, strings, and faint glitches, Middaugh sings, “When you’re about to lose everything/ you can pack light/ we can travel light”; in the minimal “Cliff Ledge,” he’s “scraping up my spirit/ just trying to get to you”; and in the deceivingly upbeat “Sandstone,” “the under-current is currently at hand/ and bringing me down.” And the instrumentation is at times a bit weirder and more dissonant than usual: “Hologram” has warped echoes and spacey electronic blips, while “Explorer” runs on a circus-like synth (or is it a melodica?) line over a low bass beat. But even though Passage of Pegasus‘s tone is dark, Breathe Owl Breathe still execute it with a brand of cleverness, quirkiness and charm that will always be hard to match.