Thursday 12 December 2013

She Owl - She Owl

Album review by

There are plenty of occasions in life where the saying "you reap what you sow" rings true, and this album from She Owl is one such instance. There can be little doubting that the intricacy and the quality of writing and arranging is to a high standard, that much you'll grasp from a solitary listen, but just how much enjoyment you're likely to get from the record depends largely on how willing you are to listen, and to listen repeatedly. There's no big pop rush to be found here, and there are no hooks that will instantly stick in your mind for the rest of the day. 'She Owl' is a grower, and while that term is often used to disguise an album that's intelligently made but ultimately rather boring, in this case it means that there are hidden depths to be found, new layers to uncover with each play, and songs that gradually worm their way into your grey matter as opposed to diving straight in and setting up camp for the night.

Jolanda Moletta has previously released music simply as Jolanda, but this is her first full-length as She Owl. Being a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, the bulk of the work was done by Jolanda herself, aided by percussionist Dave Mihaly, guitarist Demian Endian and other musicians from the San Francisco area where the record was made. As soon as the piano to first track 'Homewoods' begins you're taken away to another world; a mysterious twilight zone full of strange fairytales and haunting, otherworldly beauty, but a beauty that is sometimes tarnished by a bleak, sparse, cold sound; something that only adds to the overall effect. Perhaps the most obvious contemporary comparison would be PJ Harvey's splendidly baroque 'White Chalk' album, but this also compares favourably to Christine Leakey, particularly on songs like 'Behind The Stars'. The vocals are impeccable throughout, and the bare-boned arrangement of the piano-and-voice opener is built upon with more instrumentation on the following title-track. Your transportation to that other world is by now complete; the atmosphere created is inescapable.

With percussion often being little more than a solitary, medieval-style drum boom, the jaunty rhythm of 'Over The Bones' is given life by its pace an unusual timing; regular songwriting is thrown out of the window in favour of this more inventive chamber-pop style and the occasional use of instruments that are difficult to pinpoint, although it's the piano that takes the lead. The see-sawing 'December' being a prime example of all that's described above. It could be the best song for summing up what She Owl is all about. For a track called 'Nightingales', you find more sadness than expected and a nocturnal feel rather than the vibrant tunefulness the name implies, although it's another example of that carefully constructed atmosphere. 'Fisherman Queen' works in a similar way, offering an air of loneliness; much the same could be said of the delicate 'Paper Birds'. Perhaps the closest we come to a conventional song or possible single is the more accessible 'Hide And Seek', but rather than detracting from the ambience of 'She Owl', it proves to be a highlight. In all, 'She Owl' is an album that will give you what you're willing to take. If you want a quick fix then something more immediate might work better, but for depth, beauty and pure emotion, it's well worth taking the extra time to get to know this record, and you might just find yourself getting lost in a different world.

She Owl's website

Buy the album

Catch them live:

Jan 25th, 2014 Paris, France @ L'Index
Mar 21st, 2014 Perugia, Italy @ Loop
Apr 3rd, 2014 Montpellier, France @ The Black Sheep
Apr 11th, 2014 Zaragoza, Spain @ TBA
Apr 12th, 2014 Girona, Spain @ Context Llibreria Cafè

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