Toni Hartley is quite capable of reaching into the deepest recesses of your heart and finding ache and joy that you never knew existed. And while her work under the moniker of The Birdhorse is rooted in the traditional rhythmic movements of ‘60s and ‘70s folk music while also being laced with scattered electronic impulses, she builds a sound that feels as unique as it is mesmerizing – a ramble of folk intimacy mixed with circuital experiments which clings to your bones and organs. Its intricate densities are inescapable and utterly affecting.
Hailing from Carrboro, North Carolina, Hartley acquired some firsthand experience when she spent time singing back up on the tUnE-yArDs record, “Nikki Nack,” and on the “Red Hot + Fela” compilation track, "Lady.” She started to focus on her own indie-folk aesthetic as The Birdhorse in 2012, shifting countless sounds and adapting various influences to suit her needs until the release of her debut LP, “Treasure,” in 2015.
In the intervening years, she has gradually evolved her mix of genres and musical histories into a cohesive and refreshingly innovative folk-ish hum and shuffle – it’s the kind of sound that seems to soundtrack low evenings in late summer before autumn fully takes hold but after the first chill settles in. She is currently working toward the release of her forthcoming album, which is due out sometime in 2020.
With the release of her new single, “Let Go,” which The Southern Sounding is pleased to premiere, Hartley crafts a delicate and otherworldly wash of tones and weightless musical ingenuity. Mixed by Ari Picker from Chapel Hill-based indie-folk outfit Lost in the Trees, the song was written, produced, performed and recorded entirely by Hartley, who has been exploring a newfound maturation in the way she approaches and shapes her music since the release of her 2018 sophomore record, “Fool’s Adventure.”
Throughout the track, she reveals to the listener something of a fascination with how to incorporate more synthetic textures into her organic efforts. And these melodic investigations have yielded a dramatic return in both cavernous emotional resonance and rhythmic subtlety. Jazz urges, background electronic flourishes and a certain folk minimalism all combine to confound and mesmerize, refusing to be easily assimilated or labelled. There’s a strange and compulsive droning quality to “Let Go” which prevents it from providing immediate answers. Those only come with time spent lost wandering this ethereal landscape, though Hartley and her spellbinding voice are always there to provide a way out should you need a break.