by Andrew Garrison
Owls’ second album, aptly titled, Two comes a little bit over a decade off of their first self-titled album, and roughly twenty or so years after they started Cap’n Jazz, with many of the same pieces. While Owls hasn’t necessarily been working on this release that entire time, it has been about an 18 month process to bring us Two. While the most heralded members of Owls are generally Tim and Mike Kinsella on vocals and drums, respectively, Two really does an excellent job of highlighting Sam Zurick and Victor Villarreal, who are often throughout the album playing a cat-and-mouse game with their respective guitar riffs. Another stray observation before I delve into the album itself: Each song title ends with an ellipsis, which I am sure has some sort of artistic significance if I thought deeply enough about it, which I am going to neglect to do.
“Four Works of Art…” sets the standard for the album, with very cool guitar riffs and sort of eerie vocals and steady drums to drive the track along. “I’m Surprised…” is the first song we got a taste of earlier this year. “I’m Surprised…” is really excellent from a musicianship standpoint on all accounts and has commentary-like vocals to break things up when needed. “The Lion…” has a similar ebb-and-flow to it that can be found on much of the album. One thing I haven’t brought up enough thus far is the lyrics. While the vocals aren’t really anything to write home about, often the lyrics can be substantial precise and downright funny. No better example of that occurs than on “Why Oh Why…” where some of our lyrics mention “Lost and found ChapStick” and “Waiters with bad breath”. I am still not entirely sure how either of those plays into the song itself, but I got a good chuckle out of it. “This Must Be How…” has more of that call-and-response guitar and drum spots. “Ancient Stars Seed…” is characterized by loud, punk/emo vocals over subdued and quite playful drums, creating kind of a different sound than we are used to hearing. “It Collects Itself…” brings back the eerie vocals with guitars that wavier in and out throughout the song. Towards the back end we get a messy combination of instruments that, while absolutely loud and jumbled, actually works. “It’ll Never Be…” has more of the incredibly talented instrument play with guitars that just plain rock out towards the back end. “Oh No, Don’t…” is slower in tempo and lower in pitch than most of the album, driven at a steady pace by well-established drum bits that eventually ease its way back to a familiar and smoother sound. “Oh No, Don’…” seems to have three distinct acts to “A Drop of Blood…” is kind of an odd way to end the album, being perhaps the loudest and highest energy song on Two. Once again however, we get truly outstanding guitar parts that highlight and remind us what we have heard throughout the course of the album.
All things considered, Two is good–kind of weird–but it is that type of album that takes a few listens through to really appreciate. It has a lot of layers to it to unpack. On the surface it is a display of really outstanding musicianship. But the more and more you listen you start to appreciate the subtle changes in tempo, the general composition and arrangement of songs and the often eerily droning vocals. Two has a classic, near retro vibe to it that fans of these Chicago based musicians earlier projects will surely appreciate.