Owls: self-titled

Jade Tree

I think I’ve said this before in an earlier piece, but I feel that it needs repeating. If you ever get into this business of music reviewing and stumble across a band whose press kit tells you next to nothing about their music and instead opts for some sort of double talk with which to describe said band, then nine times out of ten you’re going to soon be embarking on a bad listening experience. If the band’s publicist can’t even come up with something tangible to describe its client’s sound, then by all means fear the disc that you may be holding in front of you.

So here we are with the band called Owls (no “the” preceding their name). According to the Jade Tree fable, the band members first got together in 1989 and went through such band names as Toejam, Novelty Tree Lights, and Cap’n Jazz. I don’t know. Maybe these guys were just doomed from the start, or perhaps there’s something enjoyably quirky in their sound. But what about that sound, anyway? So far even I have failed to come up with a description of their audio offerings.

Fear not, gentle readers for I have the goods. But first, let’s get the band’s cleverness out of the way so you can be fully prepared for the Owls’ sound. There are eight songs here, many of them with titles dipped in dismal tongue-in-cheekery (yes, I just created that term specifically for this review). When you read titles like “What Whorse You Wrote Id On”, “I Want the Quiet Moments of a Party Girl”, “I Want the Blindingly Cute to Confide in Me”, “For Nate’s Brother Whose Name I Never Knew or Can’t Remember”, “Life in the Hair Salon-Themed Bar on the Island”, and “Holy Fucking Ghost”, what is your first reaction? Mine was one of instant dread. Sure, the titles are quirky so that must mean the band is as well. That is, quirky in the way of low on talent/high on abstract wanking to cover up said lack of talent. And well, Owls don’t disappoint on that level.

So, the sound of Owls (yes, we’re finally there). It’s spare, it’s messy, it sounds like a garage band falling apart and trying to pick up their pieces fast enough to maybe squeeze into that whole post or math rock genre. Victor Villarreal’s guitar plinks away sloppily as Mike Kinsella’s drums can’t decide if they want to actually participate or not, while Tim Kinsella’s voice can never find the right key (if there is one), let alone a tangible note. Oh, and Sam Zurick’s bass work is in there somewhere, but the other three guys are so inept at playing their songs, I seem to have lost track of it.

“Whose Whorse You Wrote Id On” tries its best to be a sort of Phish-like jam band groove –- at least you’d think that from the opening chords, but then they fall apart recklessly as Owls seemingly lose their direction instantly. What is Victor doing there, literally killing his guitar? It sounds like it wants to run far, far away. Meanwhile, “Anyone Can Have a Good Time” presents one of the worst off-beat time signatures ever recorded (if it even is a time signature; it may just simply be piss poor). Perhaps the song could have been called “Is This Math Rock?” instead. I would quote some of the lyrics here, but Kinsella’s mumblings really don’t matter. He’s as disconnected as the guitars that swirl, gurgle and burp in a fir of musical indigestion. Something about “we can walk it, we can take it” I believe. Seriously, it was hard to make out because Tim can’t be bothered to open his mouth more than a millimeter here.

“I Want the Quiet Moments of a Party Girl” is Owls’ best stab at being Radiohead in all their post rock glory. Don’t take that as a compliment coming from me, as I found both Kid A and Amnesiac to be two of the most over-rated and thematically bloated albums to ever come out. Listen to Owls do the exact same thing and realize just how boring the supposed genius of the bigger band can actually be. On the other hand, there is the stab at pop accessibility in “Everyone is My Friend” that almost has a semblance of rhythm, melody, and singing. But not really. I can’t help but think that Owls really have no talent at all and just got lucky that Jade Tree decided to release this stuff.

So yes, basically Owls is yet another one of those albums seemingly released for maybe the members in the band and their friends, but who else? You’ve got me there. The second half of the album repeats the same clueless and/or talentless escapades that the band embarked upon in the first half. I really wonder about these bands of late that record music that seemingly is made to merely annoy people. I have no answers, but it seems like more and more these days that anyone can make a record and land a contract. Now I know how the Beatles must have felt when they created Apple Records and everyone and his brother started coming in with tons of unmarketable ideas. Owls would have fit the bill perfectly.