Release Date: Mar 25, 2014
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Emo, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Rock
An Owls record really wasn’t expected, some 13 years after the Chicago legends’ debut. Born from the recent spat of reunion shows, in many ways an Owls album is a far sweeter end product than a Cap’n Jazz release, which would drown in expectation. Two rages in discord and arrhythmia; “Ancient Stars Seed” powers through rhythms whilst Tim Kinsella’s vocals fall apart with fidgety boredom.
When I interviewed Owls frontman (also Cap’n Jazz, Make Believe, and Joan of Arc frontman) Tim Kinsella in 2011, I asked him if his lack of critical recognition irked him, and I could tell he was a little fed up of being asked: “We make music to make music; we don’t make music to make money. If we could operate in the same way and make more money that would be good”. It’s funny, really – Kinsella has never taken the path of least resistance, because he modestly treasures his own artistic integrity.
Chicago indie/emo/math-rock [delete as appropriate] outfit Owls existed for a very short amount of time between 2001 and 2002. Yet another band involving brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella (between them, either separately or together, they’ve been involved in numerous influential Chicago indie/emo/ math-rock [delete as appropriate] bands such as American Football, Joan Of Arc, Make Believe and Cap’n Jazz; all big names with a scene that they essentially helped create), Owls managed to record and release one full-length in that short time. And while this specific outlet for the Kinsella brothers’ music might have been utterly short-lived, its return is big news indeed.
In 2001, a good seven years after the dissolution of teenage emo/artsy hardcore group Cap'n Jazz, most of its members regrouped as a far different beast called Owls. While Cap'n Jazz unknowingly pioneered the entire emo genre with their screamy, melodic urgency, Owls' self-titled debut was a darker, more angular affair, composed of bottle-rocket drumming, epic technical guitar runs, and increasingly cracked lyrical wordplay from singer/lyricist Tim Kinsella, who had been confounding listeners with his polarizing and experimental work in Joan of Arc around the time Owls took off. An incredible, well-received debut album and scant amounts of touring took place before the band imploded, breaking up just a year after it began.
Review Summary: Bridging the gap between singular identity and collective influence.When Owls' long awaited Two found its way into my inbox over a month ago I had no idea what to make of it. To be quite honest, I'm not sure if I even know now, but I think I'm getting closer to understanding it. Most of us like to think that the post-Cap'n Jazz exploits of the Kinsella clan and their compatriots exist as singularities.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It's been thirteen long years of lying dormant since Owls released their first and only album back in 2001. While it's safe to say that vocalist Tim Kinsella's confirmation of the Chicago four-piece's reunion didn't quite raise the same excitement levels as the return of the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Pixies or My Bloody Valentine, there was a strong contingent of die-hard Kinsella brothers fans who lost their shit at the prospect of a new Owls record.
Sometime after the dawn of the new millennium (that opening is a little more grandiose than intended, please ignore it) a friend made me one of those priceless mixtapes that’s like a treasure map pointing you towards a load of great music (thanks Jonny). Amongst the tracks were “Never Meant” by American Football and “AOK” by Cap’n Jazz, the first a yearning yet propulsive break-up song up with one of my all-time favourite riffs and the second a lo-lo-fi punk number with slurred vocals and a jazz-funk false-start. Although on first impression completely different, research soon showed that both pieces flowed from the same source.
There's little chance that listeners unfamilar with Tim Kinsella's work would refer to the angular, incomprehensible melodies of Owls’ self-titled 2001 LP as “pop”, and it’s even less likely that his lyrics, which are cryptic, piecemeal, and pointed as a ransom note, would strike them as “emo”. Owls is Kinsella’s most accessible project, though, and it’s proven massively influential for countless self-identifying emo groups. Regardless, the funny thing about Two, the project's first release in nearly 13 years, is that as much as it appeases those who would call it “highly anticipated”, it might actually appeal more to newcomers.
The mighty oak of offbeat emo that is Cap’n Jazz has dropped an impressive number of genre touchstone acorns. Brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella made their marks with a few projects each (respectively, Joan of Arc and Owen standing tallest), Victor Villareal and Sam Zurick went on to Ghosts and Vodka, and Davey von Bohlen formed The Promise Ring. Aside from von Bohlen, the members have cycled around, working with each other on various projects, but Owls was their actual band, formed seven years post-Jazz.
With a complex history that requires nearly a third of all Wikipedia entries to unravel, the compressed origin of Owls' second recording after nearly fifteen years could be found in the 2010 reunion shows by Cap'n Jazz, the early '90s Chicago pre-emo group that birthed them and dozens more. Taking a break from the increasingly experimental Joan of Arc, Tim Kinsella helms the quartet that have only subtly mellowed as they approach their forties. His untethered wordplay is buffeted by the twin serpentine of Victor Villareal's guitar and Sam Zurick's guitar, at times more hydra-headed argument than interplay.
Two is a weird record, in the same sense that Owls is a weird band. It follows no particular flow, and yet its structures are not exactly unorthodox. I bend my tongue to explain it precisely because it shouldn’t be so hard to explain. And yet neither is it strange in the same way that the band and its self-titled debut were when they last poked their heads above the surface over a decade ago.
Here’s one for the history books. The very thought of a new Owls record 18 months ago would’ve crossed minds absolutely nowhere, but here we have ‘Two’ - the second record by the band in twelve years. Having disbanded back in 2002, the now classic line-up (Tim Kinsella, his brother Mike, guitarist Victor Villareal and bassist Sam Zurick) have finally reunited, producing this album just as the “emo revival” conveniently seems to reach its highest achievements yet.Those familiar with the band members’ other projects will know just why this one has the potential to be extra special, though.
My dear friend Mike sacrifices the majority of his spare time and income in pursuit of his life goal - initiating the return of bearded flare-garblers Abba. He is the proud owner of an original, boxfresh Agnetha doll. To afford this he sold his Playstation 2. In his "special drawer" sits a highly collectable cuboid of azure fat entitled 'Abba: The Toilet Soap' and every year he puts on 'Abbadance' in which the weird and wonderful online community gather to do exactly that.
Following the careers of brothers Mike and Tim Kinsella is no easy task. Together they formed Cap’n Jazz, the band that would steal the term emo from Washington, D.C., and claim it for the Midwest. Since then the brothers Kinsella have collaborated on various projects, each one specializing in a different facet of indie-rock, and with their frequent collaborators shooting off in different directions, the band’s family tree is vast and tangled.
Owls — Two (Polyvinyl)Defiance of expectations is a good thing. Four-fifths of the Chicago-based group Owls, who released their debut in 2001, first played together in the mid-1990s as Cap’n Jazz. (The sole member not shared between the two lineups: guitarist Davey Von Boehn, probably best-known for his work in the Promise Ring.) Back then, the contrasts between the two groups were massive: Cap’n Jazz’s headlong, frenzied, weirdly infectious songs contrasted with Owls’ more abstract take on things.
Even for the most casual listener, being a fan of Owls has been a long and arduous journey. Two is the band’s second album in 13 years under their current moniker. Prior to the formation of Owls, band members Tim Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Victor Villarreal and Sam Zurick created the emo-punk band, Cap’n Jazz. Cap’n Jazz disbanded in the late 1990s, and the band members created such acts as The Promise Ring, Make Believe and Joan Of Arc.
It’s difficult to write good music that ventures outside the boundaries of traditional popular music. Popular music, on the other hand, is relatively easy to write. Since popular music deals in chord sets and forms that exert a proven visceral pull on the listener, it has a built-in direction and clarity. This is part of what makes it popular music.