Album Reviews: Thus Owls - ‘Turning Rocks’

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A study in contrasts, Thus Owls' Turning Rocks weaves spacious notes and richly enunciated tones throughout a base of opulent dissonance. It's a sonic duality that springs organically from the nature of the band itself, the Swedish-Canadian husband and wife team of Simon and Erika Angell—he a founding member of the Patrick Watson band, she a prominent Swedish vocalist. On Turning Rocks, Thus Owls have created a detailed and vivid soundscape through the marriage of their individual musical powers.
 
Opening with measured restraint, the spacious piano notes of the first track “As Long as We Try A Little” are overlaid by Erika Angell's precise vocals. Sounding very much like Kate Bush, her words stretch like raindrops and land like fat pearls before the song erupts into a final brief cacophony of calculated dissonance. It's a striking beginning to an album that showcases her impressive vocal range, one that at times rivals the pounding intensity of the drums, at other times breaks free of the clamour to escape on hummingbird wings.
 

“As Long as We Try A Little” (official video).
 
The duality of chamber pop vocals and starkly experimental instrumentals that defines Turning Rocks feels just right because the album never loses its focus. There is a feeling of mastery even within the instrumental break-downs. Even in the deepest cacophony there is restraint. 
 

“How, in My Bones” (official video).
 
From the staccato drumming underpinning frenetic vocals on “Bloody War”, to the ghostly choral ending of the haunting “A Windful of Screams”, to the cries echoing across the fjord on “Smoke Like Birds”, Turning Rocks paints vibrant aural pictures of a landscape and a people. The songs on this album are, in fact, based on stories of Erika Angell's ancestral home and serve as a scrapbook of memories from her grandmother's time. 
 
The memorable closing track Thief, with its deep guttural vocals, is a reverse image of the chamber pop effervescence of the opening track. The only male-female duet on the album, the darkly ominous song features a vocal guest performance by the king of funeral rock, Timber Timbre's Taylor Kirk. Reminiscent of some of the darker songs of Erika Angell's national compatriots, The Knife, the final track on Turning Rocks acts as a mirror image and a fitting bookend to the deft optimism of “As Long As We Try A Little”. When the final discord lifts the song from its place of fear up into the ether, the album comes full circle.
 
Fresh off an appearance at SXSW, Thus Owls will be criss-crossing the globe with periodic tours throughout the spring and summer. Check their website for dates near you and be sure to scoop up this free download of “How, In My Bones”. If you are at all curious to learn more about this bicontinental band and how they make the music they do, take a glance at this mini-documentary about the making of Turning Rocks:
 

Turning Rocks: a micro-documentary.

Barbara Bruederlin

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