02 February 2009

Album Review: Owl - Owl

Leave it to the new guy to review the band nobody's ever heard of. While the COTMA regulars get to chew on AC Newman and Los Campesinos, I must, whimpering and shivering for want of food and clothes, accept the self-titled release of Los Angeles band Owl. Then I cry myself to sleep, dreaming of revenge.

I kid, I kid.

Some of the most unexpected joys can be found in listening to a band that neither your nor anyone else on Earth has heard of but still kicks ass. I should know. During my junior and senior years at high school, I reviewed 100 CDs for community radio station KXCI down in Tucson, and some of my favorite artists I discovered in that time. So I'm used to it. That is, I'm used to the beatings and whippings.

Again, I kid.

The first time I listened through Owl, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. It was only after subsequent listens that I decided this one thing: Owl refuses to cement its music in one category. While this trio uses hard rock as their base of operations, ignoring the other components of their artistry would do them a disservice, as the band does their best to show off their versatility. From the opening bars of "Charmed," I can hear Owl's roots in Black Sabbath, but the verses give way to a chorus that would sound more at home in a Staind song than a tune by Alice in Chains. Owl muddles in new wave vocals and trials the kind of bratty guitar tones that fill pop-punk refrains in songs like "Alive" and "More on Drugs." The rhythm guitar line that rounds the verses "No Light" recalls Horrorpops on top of the lite metal filler. I'm honestly a bit puzzled by Owl's intentions. Are they trying to push the bar, or merely trying to introduce themselves to the rock world?

What's clear is that Owl tries hard to rock, although I never felt the urge to throw up the horns at any time. (Note: I usually never do.)The press release that came in the mail with the CD did its best to embellish Owl's musical style, because I can tell you that Owl is very certainly not "progressive alternative rockers" as the mailer claims. If Owl is prog rock (pardon me, "alt prog") then Korn is also prog rock and Enon are shoegaze. Nearly every song on the record follows a verse-chorus structure ad infinitum with solos and bridges and whatnot smashed between. Owl just doesn't do any of the theatrics or unusual instrumentation that Yes or Jethro Tull toyed with. Maybe I just don't get this "progressive alternative" rock, but the only thing that seems prog about it are the static swirls and feedback sprinkled sparingly around only a few of the tracks. Owl could be described as Goo Goo Dolls gone Ozzy Osbourne after taking a songwriting class taught by Kaiser Chiefs.

Chris Wyse is the man behind this band. He's a bassist who's established himself by working with The Cult, playing alongside Ozzy Osbourne, and auditioning for Metallica. He wrote almost all of the songs. Sometimes, this album works. Other times, it just annoys me with its self-indulgent "alternative" style. The strings heard on "Alive" just don't fit in with the rest of the CD, and the nonsensical lyrics that run through "More on Drugs" just don't help a song that only rocks half the time and the other half merely acts tough. Honestly, the distorted guitars are the most metal thing about Owl. Wyse's voice, which could be described as Robby Takac's sans nasal passages, or Liam Gallagher with a cigarette habit.

If you love grunge, then Owl will alienate you for half the record. Alt rock fans will feel vaguely uncomfortable for the other half. Indie kids will run away. If you like solid, hard rock then I can recommend this record with extreme caution. It's a good effort by musicians with talent, skill, and experience in the music industry. Unfortunately, Owl makes too many concessions to sound accessible to a greater audience, so they never really flesh out their style. The closest Owl ever gets to hardcore is on the last song, "Waves," when flashes of miscreant tension flirt with primal screams and an alternating pattern of whiny guitar blares and deep guitar grinds. But Owl just can't stay with it, ultimately watering down their debut, making it unpalatable to fans of all the genres they try to bring together. It's unfortunate--this CD could have been a real pleasure if the songwriting had just gone all the way in one direction.

Owl will be released on February 10 by Overit Records.


becktronbexbecky said...

I can't get back what total tools these guys look like. Also, I completely defamed the promo photo they sent us, and now it hangs on my office door.

Robert said...

So THAT'S what happened to that poster. Now I totally have to see it. It's funny, because the press material highlighted Chris Wyse's stand-up bass... and it didn't matter one bit about the album. If no one had told me, I wouldn't have known/cared.

becktronbexbecky said...

Yep, stole and vandalized it. Ha!