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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: The Owle Bird - The Absence Of

The Owle Bird – The Absence Of
2008, Muddled Shoe Records

The Owle Bird’s biography simply states “The Owle Bird is a strange machine…” The Toronto quintet brings one of the more unusual sounds as they delve experimentally into incorporeal soundscapes and poetry. Comprised of Lisa Conway (vox, piano); Dan Stadnicki (drums); Cory Latkovich (cello); Tony Wallace (violin) and Jordan Howard (guitar), The Owle Bird finds musical solace on the far periphery of musical pop culture. The Owle Bird’s debut album, The Absence Of, was released in 2008 and is truly something to behold.

The Owle Bird lives in a world of structured chaos. Dissonance and conflict are equal partners with harmony on The Absence Of. The album opens with When You Became Ill/Old Man The Gravedigger, a meandering nine minute composition that plays like a dramatic funeral dirge that turns into a somehow hopeful yet demented musical monologue. Lisa Conway surfs the subdued cacophony of sounds with an amazing voice that mixes elements of Fiona Apple, Briana Corrigan and Margo Timmons. Machines is a similar construct, with the arrangement representing a rather messy, perhaps real-life picture and Conway providing the melodic seam that holds it all together.

Because of the bleak soundscapes, there is a strongly depressive or at least melancholic feel to The Absence Of. Oh How I Miss The City is a prime example, sounding like a soliloquy from a Broadway show in purgatory. The song stays away from some of the heavy dissonance of previous compositions on the album, but maintains a dark and foreboding sound that occasional gives way to passages of hopeful yet cynical light. Jewelled Beasts stays with this more lyric sound but retains the dark underbelly that seems to run through all of the songs The Owle Bird presents here.

The highlight of the album is Monsters, a musical bloodletting of childhood fears in a disturbing orchestral arrangement that grows from a pizzicato base (perhaps meant to indicate the creeping of the villains of the song). Lisa Conway particularly shines on Crows, opening in a trio of her voice, cello and violin that gradually extends to the full instrumentation of the band. The Last Hurrah is interesting. The song starts out as a quiet beauty, but there is a rhythmic under-life here that tells a different story. The drums tell a story that’s almost savage, perhaps from distant memory. This is The Owle Bird at their most prolific and melodic; having taken the near-chaos that pervades their music and pushing it down to a highly subtle and more compelling level.

The Owle Bird isn’t for everyone. Fans of New Classical dissonant styles will get a real kick out of this Chamber Folk/Rock hybrid. The band is incredibly tight and disciplined, particularly when creating sounds that may be unpleasant but lend to the overall atmosphere of a song. The tie that binds it all of course is Lisa Conway’s voice, an angelic overseer that brings sense and order to even the most disturbed and roiling passages. The Absence Of is compelling and original and highly recommended.

Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about The Owle Bird at or, where you can purchase a copy of The Absence Of.

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