Review Summary: The first of two; Low Level Owl Volume I is a warm, beautiful and epic record that is truly deserving of your attention.
For most, Low Level Owl
was one of those albums that seemed to come out of nowhere. Beginning as an emo/indie-rock band in the vein of Braid
or Sunny Day Real Estate
, The Appleseed Cast
managed to completely reinvent themselves by the time Low Level Owl, Volume I
(their third album, the first of a separately released double album) rolled around. While Mare Vitalis
, the group's second record, hinted at the possible direction the group took on Low Level Owl
with a new found appreciation for atmosphere, the change was as drastic as it was unexpected.
Low Level Owl
still has hints of the band's contemporaries (Jawbreaker
, Sunny Day Real Estate etc), but for the most part, they are buried under heavily reverbed, arpeggiated guitars, highly creative drumming, pleasant washes of keyboards and layers upon layers of vocal tracks. In short, Low Level Owl
sounds positively huge. The album's more conventional songs are split up with a number of different ambient interludes, generally consisting of repeated riffs and melodies played by guitars and keyboards. On the first few listens, the repetition can cause the listener to get lost, but with time and patience, it becomes easier and easier to understand where each part fits into the whole of the album.
Undoubtedly, Low Level Owl
should be experienced as an album and a unifying piece of work. As the first of two in the Low Level Owl
series, this record is only half of the experience, albeit the stronger half. Though some of the album's instrumentals and interludes work beautifully as stand-alone pieces, an equal amount seem repetitive and unnecessary, unless looked at the context of the entire work. "Doors Lead to Questions", for example, is ridiculously boring on its own, but there are few better moments on the album than when the drums transition between "Doors..." and "Steps and Numbers", one of the album's more conventional rock songs.
Rather than trying to make songs that say anything as individual pieces, it seems that The Appleseed Cast have focused on creating an aesthetic and a feeling over the span of two albums that is far more important than what any individual song might have to say. This is particularly exemplified in the vocal tracks, which are built up from gorgeous layered parts amidst the massively reverbed guitars, the ambient keyboards and huge drumming. Good luck figuring out any actual words
; it's near impossible to understand any of the lyrics by ear, but what's more important is how unbelievably beautiful they sound, especially with the production job they are given. In fact, not being able to easily understand the words that are being sung adds a mysterious quality that is present in all other parts of the album, one that makes it near impossible to try to listen to Low Level Owl
as anything but a whole.
Although it's maybe a little long-winded and certainly not something that can be listened to at any time, Low Level Owl
succeeds in being a truly beautiful album that is far more than the sum of its parts. While it can seem to lack diversity at times, each song has its own quality; from the near-anthemic "On Reflection" to the conventional pop of "Signal" to the Jaga Jazzist
esque build of "View of a Burning City" to the simple beauty of "Bird of Paradise". In any case, Low Level Owl
is a warm, beautiful, epic and flowing album with very few peers, truly deserving of attention from any sort of listener.
Amazing overall sound
Some boring interludes
Can be overwhelming
Steps and Markers
Final Rating: 3.5/5