I have often wondered what it is about the internal dynamics of good bands that allows them to release boring records. If you’re used to writing catchy songs and playing them at shows a decent amount, won’t you know when your songs are uninteresting? Well, it’s time to start wondering about Breathe Owl Breathe, because Passage of Pegasus, their newest, is a singularly uninspired, uninteresting, and unaccomplished record on most all counts.
The trouble is not that the band has changed significantly, though they certainly used to be better. On records like Canadian Shield, the Michigan-based band made stunning, small-scale folk pop, full of raw harmonies and roughshod instrumentation. With 2010’s Magic Central, Breathe Owl Breathe applied that approach to more straightforward indie rock, with mixed results. But even then, they were results worth looking into.
Not so with Passage of Pegasus. It seems this is their ’70’s soft rock move, on par with Iron and Wine’s recent forays into the style, and in addition to delicately-picked guitar they throw on wah-wah guitars and keyboard flourishes. But the songwriting takes a definite hit, settling into a laid-back rut that could only be described, unfortunately, as “chill”. Michah Middaugh’s vocals are delivered in a cramped, soft style that sounds like it should be reading the weather on a local public broadcasting affiliate, an unfortunate partner to the music that it fits so well.
Though their music could always be a little cutesy, full of songs about bears and birds that were pretty much face value approaches, Breathe Owl Breathe just goes way too far here. Opener “Wave Face” slowly grooves to no end whatsoever, its placid quality frankly unearned. “Explorer” uses the kind of thrown-out keyboard progression that any other act would have left as a scratch track. Various other cuts use rock faces and journeys for their most basic metaphorical qualities. It’s just not good. And hell, I like the band!
It’s not all saccharine doom and gloom. “Cliff Ledge” and “Sand Stone” muster good melodies, and cellist Andrea Moreno-Beals sparingly expands her palate, favoring simple gestures to obtuse, broad strokes. “Followin’ Ya” even touts a very catchy chorus that could’ve been written by Isaac Brock in the early-2000’s, though the rest of its too-long five minutes does nothing with the idea.
Perhaps worst of all, Passage is insultingly slight. I cannot remember a single tune after listening, no matter how hard I try. But that’s because nothing’s going on. I have no doubt that Breathe Owl Breathe spent good time composing these songs, fine-tuning the arrangements before release. But I really have to question their internal barometer if this is the result of three years of work. Are they even hearing themselves anymore?