It’s been thirteen years since we last saw these fellas. Turned out to be worth the wait.
Date: September 15, 2014
Venue: The Maze
Thirteen years is some hiatus. But that’s how long has passed since Owls formed from the ashes of seminal Chicago punks Cap’n Jazz and turned into the band they are now – pretty much the same as when we left them in 2001 if truth be told.
In that time, it’d be easy for a band to rest upon their laurels and plunge into a self-doubting malaise while boring the arse of their listeners with some underwhelming rotting corpse of proggy nonsense that the band themselves hate. We’ve seen it before (hello Guns ‘n’ Roses).
But not so with Owls. They’ve returned with an album’s worth of sludgy math-emo and prog-rock which sits very nicely in today’s alternative sphere.
Tim Kinsella – Owls’ geeky-looking, tattoed front man – uses his vocals to tell their spurious tales as his brother, Mike (bald, zero geeky), uses his drumkit to confuse and befuddle with obtuse time signatures and meandering beats. Meanwhile d’Artagnan-esque Victor Villarreal’s dizzying fretwork forms the shaky foundations of each song, while woolly hat-clad Sam Zurick’s bass thud is the glue that holds it all intact.
The new album – the imaginatively-titled ‘Two’ – is, of course, why they’re touring, but although a lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge, old favourites aren’t ignored.
The impossibly unfathomable title of What Whorse You Wrote Id On is classic Owls; inconsistent, disorientating, claustrophobic and awe-inspiring, with its lacklustre, almost nonchalant, slacker approach.
Despite the gap in time, that track links seemlessly with the new output, with single I’m Surprised all slackerish, loud and dirty. Guitars chug and chime, as Tim’s vocals playfully dip in and out of the melee, forming a frothing elixir of post-punk.
To sum up their sound, and to fit them into a genre without greasing them up and sliding them awkwardly into just one unique hole is difficult. They leave the audience guessing which way they’re going to suddenly veer off into. It’s a complexity that runs throughout their set. It’s as if they set out to confuse; a purposeful notion to blow minds.
That’s not a criticism. Far from it in fact. It’s so much more entertaining when you can’t figure out what’s coming next.
You’re thinking: ‘But if you have their records you know the songs’. No. Not true. Live, they switch and swizzle, turning from one direction to another in a strategic move to fiddle with our cerebrums.
Thirteen is unlucky for some. Not Owls. Their prolonged time-out period seems to have only strengthened their position in whatever genre they want to be in.