Music

The Owls: Our Hopes and Dreams

Terry Sawyer

The Owls

Our Hopes and Dreams

Label: Magic Marker
US Release Date: 2004-02-03
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The Owls all share song credits on their debut release, though it's clear that despite holding their own as individual songwriters, they've come together in service to their shared high brow pop chops. It's a subtle and reserved catchiness, which begins on the first track, carving a featherweight groove into your head upon first listen.

"Air" takes lyrics that sound like a stilted list and folds them back in on terraced harmonies that tidally echo back like reverb. Not to mention it has the fine distinction of a miserable chorus uttered with gauzy dolly detachment: "there is only air, where I used to care". Maria May's voice has a sweet downtrodden lilt that makes me think of tea steam and writing on the inside of rainy windows. She's like Nico doing the after half of an anxiety medication ad. The Owls get much traction out of this combination of pop breeziness and melancholy melody, buoying their sorrowful gloss with songs that beg to be memorized and tapped out by a scuffing tennis shoe.

Allison LaBonne drops her song in the second slot and the record begins to sound like a singles collection. She plays big bad wolf in a slurry patch of harmonizing with Maria May on "Do Ya?", a love song filtered through Little Red Hiding Hood metaphors. LaBonne's voice has a much thicker, huskier pull to it, like Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab. On "Luck", the Owls give themselves more fully to lament and yet it's the track where they hit some of the starkest, most achingly pretty notes, like a Sundays song drowning in a reflecting pool. "Baby Boy" could be a Belle & Sebastian duet with Peggy Lee; it's baroque pop with a bit of torched out drama. I kept expecting the timpani drums to roll in over crashing string swells from the orchestra pit. This song sounds literally like chamber pop, as in chamber music, not just songs with roomy interiors and stuck-up bombast for mood. The guitar work on Our Hopes and Dreams does much to fashion a muddy, ornate feel, because notes frequently sound like gently disturbed water surfaces, distorted enough to bleed but not enough to sound like feedback squawk.

The Owls expertly pluck your heartstrings, not to get you dewy-eyed, but just to coax you into that quiet, staring into nothing zone. "Even Now" evokes old school Elton John, back before he sold his bloated corpse to Vegas and when he could instantly stir nostalgia for experiences you've never had. Many of the tracks on Our Hopes and Fears seem to be aiming for that misty-socketed pop, though admittedly with an contemporary, bookish restraint that would prevent them from being the Darkness's equivalent in twee . Only "Forever Changing" sounds misguided, like a Beatles song redone for the worst adult contemporary radio in town. It's the only time that the Owls' sound comes off as gutted fluff. Brian Tighe does much better when he doesn't sound like Christopher Cross laughing instead of crying when he thinks of Laura.

At eight songs and a little over 20 minutes, this is one of those releases that straddles the invisible line between album and EP, but either way, it's too brief and left me hungering for more, as if someone had given me communion wafers to make a sandwich with. The Owls provide a warm fireside chair for their bespectacled songwriting. I read somewhere that two of them are librarians. If your occupation ciphers your creativity and people morph into their pets, then I guess the Owls are good afternoon reading indeed.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image