You don’t expect a song named “Nightingale” to begin with a drum solo. You do expect a song named “Nightingale” to be sung by a someone with a lovely voice. You don’t expect any song—named “Nightingale,” or not—to have a drop-dead, goose-bump gorgeous chorus, simply because there’s no sense in getting one’s expectations that high. Bonus points here for the musical elegance of the transition from verse to chorus (first heard at 0:52-0:55). Note too that even in the rarified world of crystal-pure voices, The Honey Trees’ singer Becky Filip deserves some special props. Hers is not simply pretty but full of subtle character, and impressively athletic (for example, the supple leap she takes at the end of the phrase “skin and bones,” at 0:40).
The song is lush, disciplined, unfalteringly interesting. The verse feels purposeful, as Filip floats her beguiling voice above a syncopated rhythm. I like the sudden clearing of the minimal bridge (2:26). But, seriously, this chorus. Like many acutely beautiful things, it is not perfect. It is less full-fledged chorus than indecipherable sentence, containing perhaps 10 words, and encompassing (by my count) at least six moments of ravishing harmonic delight along the way. It ends both unresolved and somewhat incomplete-seeming, the perhaps inevitable result of the breathtaking mini-journey it pulls us through. The first time you hear it, in fact, the power of its beauty may not quite to sink in before the song slides sideways into a liminal section of wordless vocals (1:10). The next two times, the chorus is repeated, creating what may well be the song’s finest moment: the drum-led threshold between the chorus’s irresolute end and its immediate repetition, which we hear both at 2:13 and at 3:14. And that second time—don’t miss it—the chorus gets an additional repeat, which this time is preceded by an unexpected upward melisma at 3:43 that in its own way introduces a delicate kind of anticipatory closure into a melody that otherwise resists completion.
The Honey Trees are a duo from central California (Filip’s band mate is Jacob Wick). “Nightingale” is a song from the band’s debut full-length album, Bright Fire. An earlier EP was released in 2009. The album was produced by Jeremy Larson in Springfield, Missouri, and will be released in April.