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. It's easy to think like that – Mike went on to form Owen and American Football, Tim has Joan Of Arc and Make Believe, Victor Villarreal briefly maintained a presence as Ghosts & Vodka before getting lost in the throes of addiction, Davey von Bohlen became as much of a cult icon as Tim and Mike in The Promise Ring, and Sam Zurick bounced around Tim and Victor's projects – but outside of The Promise Ring that's really not the case. The remaining four continued to rotate throughout each others lives and continued to evolve as much together as they did apart.
Owls eponymous debut in 2001 seemed for the longest time as the middle ground in this. Working in collaboration, they accentuated their greatest assets: skewed melodies, powerful rhythmic grooves, and the jangly technicality that has been co-opted wholesale by the current so-called “Emo Revival”. It also saw them harness their less notable eccentricities into a pointed, well oiled machine; mainly Tim's weird sense of wonder that, at times, still leads him to get lost in his own ideas; and their overall love counterbalancing their strongest moments with loose, unstructured experimentations that don't quite add up. After Owls' demise, Tim drifted even farther into left field sonic sojourns and Mike found his comfort zone in the awkwardly tuned strings of his acoustic guitar. This once again made it easier to look at what they brought to the table on their own terms and not what they coaxed out of each other, but that all changed when Victor Villarreal reemerged and found himself teamed back up with Tim Kinsella in Joan of Arc. His angular emo by way of Don Caballero guitar work seemed to reinvigorate Joan of Arc and bring it back into a more centered collaboration that suited its punk-jazz stylings.
This plays directly in to Two
. Where the original Owls release bridged the gap between paths at the beginning of their divergence, Two
is the coalescing of artists who have already found their comfort zones. It's a strangely put together settling point that doesn't showcase any of its members at their individual bests, but it coaxes out their most focused songwriting in years. Almost as a backlash to Theo Katasounis' avant garde jazz swing on current Joan of Arc releases, Mike Kinsella's drumming has been tempered from spastic bursts to June of 44-eqsue mid-90's post hardcore grooves. Victor Villarreal follows in tow by taking a rarely seen less-is-more approach to his histrionics. It is still very similar to the overall sound that has defined all of their work, but for the first time it gives bassist Sam Zurick a chance to take center stage in defining the overall characteristics of the instrumentation. It can be likened to the quixotic essence of their individual post-Cap'n Jazz careers. It's bare bones but, due to its quirkiness, is still far from austere. Tim Kinsella brings his trademark pitchy vocals to the fold once again, and, for the first time since Owls' debut, he focuses on melding the biggest possible results from his off-kilter hooks while not overpowering the mood of the recording. It's interesting how it all comes together. Owls reunion is marked at a time when their influence has never felt more immediate, but Two
has no intent of retreading old ground and also no intent to assert its dominance over the sea of bedroom guitarists who jam along to American Football and Joan of Arc recordings every day after their morning classes. Two
, like everything they have done both together and apart, exists solely for itself – and this is the most fitting way to parse what Owls have created. It is an incredibly unique performance that builds upon the collective legacy of its members not by pushing them to their extremes, but by uniting them back to a rooted sonic aesthetic that all too often gets buried when they are apart.