Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Album Review: Owel - Owel

Album Rating: B+
Where to begin with Owel is difficult. It usually is - post-rock and its close likenesses need an individualizing concept in order to keep themselves afloat, new, and apart from the rest of the industry. However, the band takes it a step further by introducing a different instrumentation and allowing the natural flow of a different sound take its own effect in the songs. Thus, when they produce something like their self-titled, the violin, cello and keys in addition to a traditional setup creates something altogether separate. Owel utilizes these sounds, as well as a strong control over song flow, in order to maximize an emotional effect in the listener and build up to big moments to make them even larger.

The first thing to notice about the self-titled is the fluidity of the writing style. Whenever a song approaches an outro or a vamping point that needs to be particularly powerful, it's usually built up slowly enough that it isn't overwhelming, but subtle sounds quickly stack up and eventually it reaches a breaking point almost orchestral. This subconscious growth comes out very clearly with lots of string effects like on "Burning House," but is also present in "Float," presented in a less blatant manner disguised by the waltzing three-beat feel and dramatic minor chord changes.

The other thing that comes out as really very interesting is the instrumentation. I know it was previously mentioned, but it's something continuing to come up; at almost every turn, the band continues to surprise. Right away, "Snowglobe" instills a melody that will never fade, a celeste-like effect on the keyboard that presents a poppy, upbeat tune allowing the track to float, and becomes no heavier with the introduction of a lightly plucked guitar or a sweeping cello two minutes later. Owel spares no expense, and the desire to listen to the album through is quickly placed. Likewise, "Once The Ocean" uses electronic beats to change up the mood to keep it from being repetitive, and to introduce an effect which actually isn't heard for the remainder of an album. Despite being somewhat gimmicky, it works well for the track and produces variety.

"Field Mouse" stands away from the majority of the tracks in an interesting way; it mostly consists of an acoustic guitar and bells moving in a haunting and lachrymose waltz. Singer Jay Sakong presents dark vocals to us in a quiet, high, and quivering voice that fits with the tune brilliantly: "I had a knife / I had a knife, but I cut myself wide / I never could / I never could hold the blade like I should / But I made no excuses, I knew," he sings, as a snare is brushed gently along with him, and he embodies the pain of his words in his voice, as he explains later, "I never was / I never was quite careful enough with the things I love, but I knew," the loss tolling on the listener emotionally, the mood bearing down with intensity - at which point, the song is turned around, a cello with a brightening melody comes in, and the pensive mood is broken, turning around the despair forced down a second earlier. However, the song doesn't land on a solid resolution, instead leading to the following track - the finale, "Reborn." The song title seems redeeming of the melancholy of the prior and the light at the end of the tunnel, a bright note to end on.

The self-titled isn't perfect; some of the dynamics of the tracks are overplayed, and the dynamics have a tendency to be almost overpowering at times. However, the flow of the album pushes the listen along so easily that it becomes difficult to avoid being caught up in a whole run through the album. Additionally, the strings add a unique layer to the music, filling a space which might otherwise be synthesizers or reverb guitar effects in a way that might even be more effective than the electronic counterparts. With that, the instrumentation, and the structure of each song being akin to post-rock, but an individualizing play on the genre, whatever comes next from Owel will be as or more grandiose as their self-titled.

Watch for news on Owel's site and their Facebook!

Track Listing:
01) Snowglobe
02) Scales
03) Burning House
04) Death In The Snow
05) Nothing's Meant
06) Float
07) Once The Ocean
08) Unforgiving Tide
09) Progress
10) Field Mouse
11) Reborn

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