[15 November 2007]
The Owls only crime up to this point seems to be the fact that their 2004 debut mini-LP Our Hopes and Dreams was frontloaded with two of the most delectable indie pop songs released in the past couple of years—a combination which left the inevitable expectation game at full throttle. The airy vocals of Maria May and Allison LaBonne, along with the essential contribution from former Hang Ups member Brian Tighe, has the promising appeal of an indie pop supergroup in the making. The remaining selections on Our Hopes and Dreams, however, were simply only moderately enjoyable compared to the initial tracks. This caused considerable grumbling about how the band would not live up to the quixotic fantasies of indie rock kids everywhere.
With Daughters and Suns, the band must undoubtedly answer the question which has been plaguing them for the past three years: Can they live up the Belle and Sebastian/Au Revoir Simone comparisons garnered from their stellar songs such as “Air” and “Do Ya?”. It seems like a set-up destined for failure, but the band does its best to put forward a quality pop album, without all the hype. The LaBonne/May collaboration once again produces the sweet-laced songs and cutesy lyrics which teenage boys are bound to fall in love with, and with Tighe weighing in at the appropriate moments to level things out a bit the vocal threesome produces a bevy of full-fledged indie pop harmonies.
Daughters and Suns shows The Owls adept skill at creating fleeting moments of pop bliss. The adorable naïveté of the lyrics says it all. Maye’s Charlie Brown allusion: “Peppermint Patty lives outside / She knows where the ladies ride.” Tighe’s tribute to solitude: “I pay my bills by candlelight / With loving care and no one there.” LaBonne’s friendly offerings: “You don’t have to worry if you want to stay on the couch / There’s kimono hanging up in the closet for you in the morning.” Ah, the beautiful simplicity. The band creates slices of melancholy pop you’d like to stow away in your pocket just in case you need a reason to smile at some later point.
When the album opens with “The Way On”, we are given an apt depiction of what the group is capable of as the three vocalists combine their tender pipes to a subtle, pleasing effect. But their most beautiful moment seems to come with the second track, “Yellow Flowers”. At just over two minutes, the song showcases the best Tighe/LaBonne harmonies yet. The duo swap lines on the verse before combining on a tragically mournful chorus. Then there’s Maria May’s “Bury Your Mind”—a pure folk song which gravitates more around acoustic strums than any other selection on the record. It’s their simplicity, however, which may contribute to the band’s single fault. The Owls rarely stray from their stated formula. After a string of folksy, harmony-laden pop gems, the listener is likely to pine for something more experimental. And the formula only gets the group so far as songs such as “Peaceful Place” give the impression that Tighe is painting-by-numbers with his lyrics.
The Owls seem to be one of those unfortunate groups who become ensconced in indie rock cuteness but seem unable to forge an identity of their own. The grumblings will most likely continue, “Not as good as ‘Air’, blah, blah.” The truth is, Daughters and Suns is a solid effort from the group. The trio of songwriters have certainly proven they can pen a catchy tune, laden with dainty hooks and three-part harmonies. But the infectious syncopation of “Air” with its unforgettable couplet, “There is only air / Where I used to care”, seemed to promise something new and entirely different from what we have here. If you haven’t already listened to the band’s debut mini-LP, don’t start now. Enjoy Daughters and Suns for what it is, not what it could have been.