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 Lists
03.15.19 11 Great Scores from the Last 10 Years02.28.19 Time Marches On, Baby!
02.20.19 Snow Day Jamz01.25.19 Owl-bums: A Historo-Ornithological Over
01.24.19 Recent Spinsies01.17.19 January Jams
01.11.19 Two-Album Treasures11.29.18 Last Hurrah
11.09.18 It's Always Sunny11.02.18 Concerts Closing Out 2018
10.26.18 Over the Garden Wall10.05.18 Thangs I Need
08.17.18 Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes...08.14.18 2018: Back-Half Exciters
07.26.18 Deadwood: The Movie!07.19.18 Philly Fishtown/Center City Recs
07.12.18 Saga Issue 53 (Spoilers)06.20.18 Shopping List
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Owl-bums: A Historo-Ornithological Overview

A brief and incomplete, but nonetheless important overview of Owlbums of note through the decades.
1Rush
Fly by Night


1975 - The granddaddy of them all. Note that this owl, despite persistent rumors to the contrary, is actually illustrated, this release having predated the advent of photography by nearly a decade. His stern, mighty, mightily stern look sets quite a tone, one that would owl-volve considerably through the years. An iconic A+
2Barclay James Harvest
Gone to Earth


1977 - A comparably minor owl, but compensates for its distance by cutting an angular, energizing semi-profile. Truly another standard-bearer, and it's no surprise that there'd be an over-20-year drought in owl imagery to follow, musicians seeming to have gotten together and collectively agreed that it was best not to even try after this era-defining one-two punch. Then again, mayhaps we should consider the failure of hair metal and grunge to try their hands at owls a blessing in its own right. An almost-as-iconic A
3Nightwish
Oceanborn


1998 - Flying(!) forward quite a bit, here we encounter the welcome-yet-unfortunately-underwhelming reemergence of the owl in the late 90s, once again shrunken down (this time, ironically, due to inflation), and looking an awful lot like the nighttime counterpart to those folders we all had with dolphins and other sea life on them. Alas, even the mysteries within its so dearly clutched scroll cannot elevate this seabird. A disappointing C-
4Drive-By Truckers
Southern Rock Opera


2001 - The illustrious illustrated owl finally makes its flight, as was inevitable, over to the realm of alt-country. A smaller owl in stature, again, and drawn less-than-tidily (albeit deliberately so)--but its piercing gaze belies its minuscule scale; in fact, it is purportedly what ultimately drove then-member Jason Isbell to get his act together and sober up, even if his subsequent solo career (thus far) has curiously remained notably owl-free. A rough-around-the-edges but respectable B
5Magnolia Electric Co
Magnolia Electric Co


2003 - No doubt finding purchase and thriving within its new environs of Americana, here we witness the owl at last triumphantly grow to occupy nearly the entirety of the frame--so much so he is forced to cock his head in order to fit, as well as look a bit sassy as a happy byproduct. A minor masterpiece, which sets a new standard. A resounding A
6The Pax Cecilia
Blessed Are The Bonds


2007 - Are these owls or rabbits, amiright? Or, perhaps more apt and befitting their new stylistic home, hydras? Since they've certainly multiplied quite a bit in just a few short years. Quantity doesn't always equal quality, of course, but here, fortuitously, it very much does. Bonus fact: While it's well-known that one owl is called Pax (upper left) and another Cecilia (lower right), the names of their companions remain unconfirmed to this day. A prolific A-
7Cult of Luna
Eternal Kingdom


2008, circa July - Again finding itself yoked to a genre--in this case, post-metal--here we find the owl apparently growing to gain dominance over its adopted home and turning sinister, even demonic in the process. In fact, there are scholars who question whether this creature can even in good faith be called an owl at all. Your intrepid researcher, meanwhile, finds it better not to question such an intimidating (and buff!) entity. (A genre-based sidebar/topic for discussion: How is it that Kayo Dot's entire catalog remains devoid of owls?) An imposing B+
8Peter Bradley Adams
Leavetaking


2008, circa August - Perhaps as a direct attempt to reclaim the owl for the folksier set (and just one of many bitter battles between those longtime rivals of legend and lore, post-metal and alt-country--a war worthy of a historic inventorying in and of itself), this owl arrives a mere month after Cult of Luna's, and cuts a much more minimalist, organic, altogether back-to-basics figure. If anything, it is this same tendency towards the small that both strengthens and undercuts the owl in equal measure, rendering it both stark and potent but with the nagging sense that something's been left unfinished; the ripples of this inter-genre volley would be felt for years to come. A schismatic B
9The Dear Hunter
Branches


2010, circa April - After more than a year of radio silence, the owls return in droves in 2010, starting with this confused addition to the lexicon. Looking like the foppish dandy cousin to Cult of Luna's gym rat(-eater)--though, in fairness, who among us can truly claim to know what muscles may reside behind those clothes?--the anthropomorphic owl-man produced here is the clear byproduct of an artist, nay, a culture, a CIVILIZATION still reeling from the wake of the Great Schism of 2008. It is, on the one hand, noble in its attempt to reconcile the camps, producing a naturalistic, crisp, penciled aesthetic but portraying the "manimal" look of Luna; alas, the end result comes off half-hearted and bemused/ing. It does, to its credit, actually feature a song called "Owls." A well-intentioned but baffling C+
10Kvelertak
Kvelertak


2010, circa May - An owl-volution, one called the Owl by Way of Lovecraft, Owl by Way of Illithid, or Owl by Way of Quarren, depending on whether the scholar at hand is more of a weird lit, fantasy, or sci-fi guy. Regardless, yet another distinct result of cultural confusion, and not even the reliably arresting artwork of John Dyer Baizley of Baroness (a band marked, as much as anything, by its staunch avoidance of owls, Baizley clearly respecting the proverbial boundary between Church and State) can fully transcend its own bewilderment, despite the enthrallment (wishful thinking?) of the flanking humanoids. A getting-better-but-still-not-quite-there B
11Deftones
Diamond Eyes


2010, circa May - Here, meanwhile, we find the absolute antidote to our cultural owl-ments--a perfectly timed tonic that many rightly argue is deceptively innovative in its striking simplicity. At long last, we get an actual photographic representation of the owl (cameras, for their part, having serendipitously been invented at some point in the otherwise-insignificant-to-owls 1980s), swooping in as perhaps the only honest way to rectify what had become a murky mire of dueling interpretations, and rightfully so. Echoes, in all the right ways, Rush's moody, literally blue blueprint, and sets a new standard for all owls to come. A triumphant A+
12This Patch of Sky
This Patch of Sky (S/T)


2014 (also: 2018) - Having reached an overdue zenith, owls again disappear into the night for years on end, finally flocking back nearly half a decade on. Another intentionally un-fussy showing, although at the sacrifice of true memorability. The owl, we see, is both zoomed-in-upon yet somehow, simultaneously, less in focus; this, it turns out, is an apt summation of the piece as a whole, which acts more as contented continuation than attempt at anything independently iconic. Worth noting is that the recent re-release (view here: https://www.popmatters.com/this-patch-of-sky-2593790897.html) only seems to double down and bolster this theory, aping even more directly Deftones' modern skyward watershed. An effective-yet-complacent B-
13Kvelertak
Nattesferd


2016 - Setting themselves apart as the only artists bold enough to return to the Owl-well, Kvelertak's second stab at the bird is, in many ways, a return to the roots of Barclay James Harvest. Gone are the tentacles and harem, replaced by a profiled figure, poised for the hunt. Overshadowed, almost literally so, by its human companion, the only thing holding back this owl is his behemlted buddy, diminishing and distracting as he is; however, the potential the bird himself tensely embodies is nothing to discount. As well, it incidentally serves as an appropriate note to end things on, as we await with rapt(or) anticipation the next visitation from our feathered friends of forty-four years and counting. An expectantly excited B
14Owls
Owls


2001 - Here, as a historo-ornithological addendum, we have our rogues' gallery (or: gowlery). Unworthy even of grades, this and the following are just utter letdowns. I mean, just look at this artwork. Not an owl in sight, let alone multiple. What an absolutely tremendous disaster. Music's one thing, but, as the scholars say, jeez louise, guys.
15Mogwai
The Hawk Is Howling


2008 - Trickery, trickery. Though it fooled many a decade ago, meticulous research in the intervening years has shown that this bird is certainly not an owl, and questionably even a hawk. A shameful chapter in owl history.
16Owl City
All Things Bright And Beautiful


2011 - This "artist" has six albums, and of those, this is the only one with any sort of bird in sight. That alone is damning, but exacerbated by this image-as-insult: Are we expected to believe that those are owls in the distance? In a flock? IN BROAD DAYLIGHT? Let's be real. This isn't even an owl village.
17Icarus the Owl
Love Always, Leviathan


2012 - Another classic case of false advertising, as there's nary an owl to be found through this band's catalog, not even a cartoon, Tootsie-Pop-styled mascot. The argument has been made the the tidal wave depicted here is a spiritual sequel to Nightwish's work, but come on. Is it swimming?
18He Was Eaten By Owls
Chorus 30 From Blues for the Hitchhiking


2016 - Despite the lovely sentiment of its title, this artist shamefully squanders a wonderful opportunity to show, rather than tell. All the more disappointing for its lost potential.
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