Prairie Empire, “Like Birds”

Alex Wexelman

The problem with grief is we approach it through a one-size-fits-all perspective. The most prominent guide on the subject suggests grief happens in five stages—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance—, but the biggest misnomer is in assuming these stages happen in an ordered way. Grief, as I’ve experienced it, does encompass all of these feelings, but in random waves that can make the process feel never ending.

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Grief is a feeling we’re all unfortunately familiar with, but also a feeling everyone handles differently. In the opening track on Prairie Empire’s sophomore album, The Salt, singer Brittain Ashford wraps her smoky voice around the words, “my eyes have been open for days and I don’t know why.” Her lover, no longer beside her, causes Ashford sleepless nights, which she details on “Like Birds.” Contrast that with my most recent heartbreak after which I slept like Jenny in Forrest Gump and produced zero beautiful songs encapsulating the experience.

The music video for “Like Birds,” which we’re premiering below, begins with sweeping shots of a lake, the music plays but its minimal with Brittain’s husky yet rich soprano acting as the audible focal point. At the one-minute mark, a bass drum kicks, we see Brittain’s face and she looks devastated. She begins to fall and the camera cuts to a scene of her head landing on her pillow as a choir of multitracked vocals usher in the chorus.

“We’ve never really thought of this song as some super heartbreak/downer song,” Ashford wrote in an email. “When I was initially working on it I saw it more as a hopeful missive; though it’s hard to argue with some of the more manic elements, I still personally tend to hear it that way.”

The painter Andrew Wyeth inspired the visuals, which seems an apt reference point as his paintings have always inspired loss and longing in me. The video for “Like Birds” isn’t contingent on plot, but instead focuses on mood under the stunning direction of Michelle Sutherland.

“It was SUPER cold when we were shooting, which made the entire thing a little harder than it needed to be. I really can’t watch the video without physically feeling how cold/tired I was while we were shooting,” Ashford wrote.

We all experience grief in different ways, but “Like Birds” is sure to send a shiver down your spine regardless of who you are.

Keep up with Prairie Birds here.

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