Beauty is a difficult and vague virtue to aim for, and, in Owen’s The Avalanche, aim he does. Singer-songwriter Owen’s newest release is a collection of songs sharing the same conceit: lyrical cleverness for the sake of cleverness, which for all its obscurity doesn’t achieve much, and sentimental guitar playing that you would hear in any self-respecting rom-com or ironic SNL skit. You’d like to believe that all music deepens after the first or second listen, but The Avalanche stays shallowly softhearted. In this case, to speak of beauty is to speak more of the affect of beauty than of anything else. The album is a bit of a cliché.
But, clichés exist for a reason. Owen’s The Avalanche is a retrospective of the pop-singer-songwriter genre, and in this sense it is almost comforting. Textures we all recognize abound throughout these tracks, and the instrumentalists are not untalented. The guitars and strings are carefully orchestrated with the bass and drums to produce a mix that is full and well- balanced with the vocals. Owen’s boyish voice yawns his trite lyrics over a bed of strummed acoustic guitars. This is a welcome sound to many listeners, of whom Owen has a considerable 43,000 a month on Spotify. However, it is one that lingers in so many singer-songwriters, amongst whom nothing about The Avalanche stands out. Much like his lyrics on the track “I Should’ve Known” that read “objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear, except for you”, these songs take the appearance of originality, and even of self-awareness, but after a couple listens they’re no more than precisely that: the appearance of depth.
Owen’s previous work, on the albums Ghost Town (2011) and At Home With Owen (2006) for example, tows a similar, delightfully average line as his work on The Avalanche. If there is a difference between this release and past releases it’s that Owen has now expanded his sound into a louder, busier version of what have been stripped down, acoustically-driven, lo-fi songs. The larger sound featured on The Avalanche does a disservice to Owen’s less-than-inspired lyrics as it deepens their melodrama. Take the album’s sixth track, “Mom and Dead” a slow ballad in 6/8 with roaring guitars, dramatic cymbal-smashing, and soaring voices, all in support of the words “I don’t know who I am without you,” and “I had a dream you were dying.” Even the title is a pun that feels as if it was a good idea in passing, but the lasting product comes close to a cringe.
Other than the slight change in production, there’s not much to say about The Avalanche relative to Owen’s previous work, an aspect of the new album that will please his followers. The singer-songwriter picked up right where he left off.