It’s always a risk when bands return after a lengthy hiatus. Will they have the same verve and energy as when they first emerged on the scene? Will their fans remember them? Will they still be pushing boundaries and looking into the future, or will they be happy to trade on past glories and just rehash old material? The modern trend for festival season reformations has made the latter option a viable career path. Luckily, we don’t have to worry about that with Chicago’s Owls, the group originally formed out of the ashes of Cap’n Jazz and whose debut self-titled album was released way back in 2001. Now, after 13 years they return with their second album, simply entitled ‘Two’.
With a band consisting of Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Victor Villareal and Sam Zurick (just check out the list of previous bands the members have been part of!), you know you will be in for nothing less than a very interesting listen. The album opens with the slow-burning ‘Four Works of Art’, shoegaze-led song which appears to let the music do the talking. It almost feels like they’ve never been away as the vocal interplay of falsetto and spoken word combines to devastating effect, before the closing fade out of the repeated line: ‘I know, I know’. We’ve already covered ‘I’m Surprised’, which sees the band at possibly their most accessible, while ‘The Lion…’ is a more bass-led track with talk of zoos, jungles and hunters, showing the band have not lost any of their signature humour – or ability to form something coherent out of what appears to be a nonsensical subject. Their signature difficult time signatures and post-hardcore and emo-tinged riffs are also ever-present, although ‘This Must Be How’ has a poppier aesthetic with self-referencing and tongue-in check lyrics given their chance to shine.
Often veering into the most unexpected directions, many of the songs threaten to fall apart as they seem so loose but they are always just about kept together in some style. You can hear the influence Owls have had on the likes of Johnny Foreigner and Radstewart, while the more frenetic sound brings to mind Cursive. ‘It Collects Itself’ has a looping and angular sound that makes it a bit darker than the rest of the album, especially in the closing moments as the band appears to hoot and sing in unison. This is one of the clearest examples of the band’s tailored approach to songwriting, one in which Villareal would come up with a riff, Tim Kinsella would add a chord sequence and vocal melody and then the entire band would hash out a song, inbetween arguments, of course. The stomping bass intro of ‘Oh No, Don’t…’ appears to cover general worries that can affect us all but this is rectified with the defining statement: ‘I’m a good citizen’. The closing ‘A Drop of Blood’ ends the album quicker than you may expect, but the words are delivered with such seething venom that it’s a textbook closer. With ‘Two’, Owls have made a much welcome and highly captivating return, let’s just hope they don’t fly off again anytime soon.