Review Summary: Cap'n Jazz + musical precision + good production - youthful energy = Owls
Tim Kinsella has spread his chips way too thin.
That being said, he can write songs with the best of them. But then again, perhaps that’s why he has so many god damn bands. His high school project (with drummer brother Mike), a band called Cap’n Jazz, would prove to be a highly influential (if extremely sloppy) platform for the band’s members to splinter apart and make some of the best underground music of the 90’s. Bands like The Promise Ring, Make Believe, American Football, Joan of Arc, Ghosts and Vodka and Owen would probably not be possible if it weren’t for Jazz. And let’s not forget Owls. The band features four, count ‘em, four ex-Cap’n Jazz members, including both Kinsella brothers.
Owls debuted with an 8 track self titled release, produced by Alternative wonder-kind Steve Albini. You wouldn’t be too far off if you had guessed that Owls sounds extremely similar to the band that begat it, but there’s something different in this album. Cap’n Jazz has matured. Or have they? Do mature human beings write songs about having sex with Jesus?
Regardless, Owls certainly is a more refined sound. Tim still yowls his lyrics in that same wonderfully out of tune warble, but this time the band is playing their songs more professionally. All the instruments come in on time, and the production is slick and dense. It’s a change, that’s for certain. Owls is the difference between Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted and their Crooked Rain. It’s still lo-fi, it’s still indie, but after listening to that last record, this sounds like Classic Rock. Albeit, some good freaking classic rock.
What Whorse You Wrote Id On is the grooviest track Cap’n Jazz never recorded. Sam Zurick’s bouncey bass part gives the song a 60’s reggae vibe, but Kinsella’s Malkmus-esque squawks quickly distance the band from Bob Marley and all them. Oddly enough, his lazy drawl seems to be a perfect fit for the complex guitar ‘n bass interplay going on around it. His repeated usage of the line “Anything I can mistake in the dark for being what I’m looking for is good enough for me” gives the song a distinctly dark feel, while his emotional screams of “Ask the prettiest girl in any small town” stand out as some of the most poignant vocals on the album. It’s no secret that Kinsella is an emotive vocalist, and he proves himself again and again on Owls, going from naïve to tear-jerking in seconds flat.
The other Kinsella brother proves himself on this record as well. Gone are the spastic, off kilter rhythms of Cap’n Jazz. Now Mike exhibits some truly brilliant drumming, recalling jazz greats, as well as arena rock royalty in a series of tom-tom hits. Keep in mind, Owls make fairly complicated music, with loosely free-roaming guitar riffs coming off the upper reaches of the fretboard, and abstract, yet driving bass lines that might not be out of place in Fugazi, so Mike’s drumming not only adds to the confusion, but manages to find way to keep it all semi-controlled. Also: despite all the references to classic rock Owls are hardly “that” either. The s/t is far from a “heavy” affair, in many ways, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Most of the music borders on Indie Pop, but has a deliciously off-kitler aspect to it, and more emotion that a room full of PMSing teenage girls. When Tim Kinsella sings “and each morning I know I'll be no good come night. And each night I know I'll be no good come morning. There are secrets and there are secrets, screw drivers tucked under the mattress.” You know exactly how it feels, even if you have no idea what he’s talking about. Cryptic brilliance, Kinsella is a god and Owls is his band.