RIYLAs Tall As Lions
Sleeping at Last
03. Burning House
04. Death in the Snow
05. Nothing's Meant
07. Once the Ocean
08. Unforgiving Tide
10. Field Mouse
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Zach: It takes a special kind of band to open an album with a 7-minute song. You have to place a lot of faith in your potential listeners. Or maybe a lot of faith in your own sound. Falling Up did it on Your Sparkling Death Cometh. Circa Survive did it on Violent Waves. The 7:35 “Snowglobe” opens Owel’s self-titled debut, a luscious yet subtle drift that taps a small orchestra, introduces a quiet bass groove a little under halfway in, and crescendos at just under six minutes with a singular moment of harshness at the emotional core of the song. As a band, you can write a 1-minute throwaway instrumental named “Intro,” or you can open up all the possibilities and facets of your sound in a 7-minute epic and truly prepare your listener for what is about to come. Obviously, I prefer the latter, and Owel create something special right out of the gate with “Snowglobe.”
Nick: Zach and Owel, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G... Oh sorry Zach. Anyway, There is, indeed, something grand about Owel’s approach. I’m not quite sure it’s accurate to call this post-rock, so I’ll go ahead and call this post-indie rock. Owel takes the beautiful melodic sensibility of groups like Sleeping at Last and Copeland with a heavy emphasis on dynamics over repetition. In fact, Owel is the perfect name for this New Jersey group, as the album is well-suited for the night owls of the world. The twinkly melodies and throbbing bass undertones beg to be played during a late night drive or a quiet pensive evening at home. These attributes are accentuated by the restrained songwriting.
If I were to lay out my biggest complaint, it’s that Owel’s control of dynamics is too firm. Often, songs like the second track “Scales” teased with the hope of a rush of energy, only to stay at a calm pace. However, “Burning House” rescues that misstep with a songwriting approach that ignites a barrage of four outstanding songs in a row. So where do you stand on the album after “Snowglobes,” Zach?
Zach: Well, I’m gonna fight you on “Scales” just a bit, because the subtle rush of energy during the chorus gives me plenty to chew on. I suppose I’m approaching Owel as more of an As Tall As Lions, Lafcadio/Can’t Take It with You sort of sound, something that lives and dies on its subtlety and groove. “Burning House” is much the same at first, opening very understated, whispered, moonstruck, but billows into this expansive orchestral monstrosity. If you’re looking for dynamic shifts on that scale, yes, “Scales” is a tease, but Owel can also cultivate these wonderfully capable, measured builds in tension followed by gradual, controlled releases. But you’re right, after “Burning House” the album features a lot of big, bold songs with explosive crescendos, to the point where the opening three almost feel out of place. Though I’d argue “Unforgiving Tide” ushers in yet another change in style, followed up by “Progress,” and it’s a change I like a little less. It’s got a less dramatic feel -- if we’re going Copeland, this part of the album is more like “Kite” than say a song like “Good Morning Fire Eater.” To an extent, though, “Field Mouse” begins transitioning back to ATAL-land, and “Reborn” ends the album on a positive note for me, a brooding, subtle groove that swells into aural sublimation.
Nick: If you’re going to fight me on “Scales,” then I’m happy to spar with you on “Unforgiving Tide.” While the song clearly lacks the dynamic shift of the album’s best tracks, I would heartily argue that “Unforgiving Tide” refers to the song’s hook. It continues to nudge at my brain: first telling me that I like it; then, the undertow catches my feet, and I’m head over heels. The track really symbolizes what I enjoy so much about Owel. While there is certainly something unique here, Owel is quite adept when they stick to the basics. These Jersey boys clearly know how to write a subtle hook and groove, and with the state of music in 2013, subtlety is clearly a lost art form. Owel is still a young band, but their agility at writing engaging music without turning every knob to eleven is praiseworthy for me. Any last thoughts before we wrap up, Zach?
Zach: I’m more disappointed we found less to disagree on than I had hoped. This is an album that’s stuck with me since I’ve first heard it, and while I’m lukewarm on a few tracks, Owel command a nice array of genres on their debut and get me excited for their future material. I wouldn’t mind giving this album a 4.
Nick: I was really looking forward to arguing with you about this album, but it turns out all I can say in response is “Ditto.” I admit I’m close to giving this a 4.5, but instead I’ll give Owel’s self-titled debut a very solid 4. Fans of any of the bands we mentioned would be smart to find the album immediately.
--Zach Roth & Nick Senior