Welcome to the (almost) first 4foryfour group review. Whenever a record manages to grab our collective attention we will do our best to write about it in this format. This week, it’s the much hyped Aliens from ex Terrordactyl man, Owensie.
From the opening notes of ‘Aliens’ through to the final strains of ‘Tied to a Name’ the ghosts of singer-songwriting’s past, present and future dance just beneath the surface of this record. Mic Christopher is there, as are Sufjan Stevens and Jose Gonzalez but, most importantly, so too is Michael Owens.
You’re unlikely to hear an album as sparse as Aliens this year. Listen to it and you can’t help but feel the spray from the Atlantic waves as they fight their unending battle against the west coast of Ireland. That feeling of isolation, yet avoiding even the slightest hint of helplessness, provides the perfect soundtrack to those fleeting moments when your heart skips a beat.
It’s not for everyone mind. Owensie’s vocals – pitched somewhere between Nick Drake and the aforementioned Gonzalez – take some getting used to and the tracks tend to merge into one another on the first couple of listens but it is an album worth persevering with to find the underlying beauty.
Owensie is no stranger to the Irish music scene having made waves in bands such as the appallingly named Terrordactyl and Realistic Train. Aliens sees him step into new bounds, taking on the singer-songwriter genre with more comfort and ease than his efforts in his previous incarnations ever exhuded.
Clocking in at under forty minutes, each of the album’s nine tracks are more than able to take a stand on their own.
For the most part, Aliens consists of a steady and measured vocal layered over the simplistic guitar picking. Owensie cleverly avoids the traps of the genre: the album never feels self-indulgent. Largely, it feels fresh, only waning toward the very end of the record. It begs, steals and borrows from the best in singer-songwriter territory, ‘Cat and Mouse’ jumping right out of Jose Gonzales’ solo work, while ‘Dark Place’ is in a similar mould, but a little more full in sound.
The near-instrumental ‘Ronda’ is an absolute joy to encounter. Upbeat, the track takes in the character of the Brazilian town it is named after. Were it found amongst a Rodrigo Y Gabriela record, it would not feel out of place.
‘Subtle Connections’ sees a return to Jose Gonzales territory, while ‘Lonely Wood’ and ‘The Search’ do not push the bounds too far. The closer, ‘Tied to a Name’ owes a little to Sufjan Stevens, though it, again, does not see much in the line of reinvention.
A deceptively dark tone lurks beneath the surface of the album. It is a subtle work – each listen reveals its treasures more and more. At times, it feels a little like “singer-songwriter by numbers”, yet this is no major flaw.
While Owensie doesn’t reinvent a jaded genre, he can feel confident that his Aliens are stoicly in the company of the success stories, rather than floundering efforts by his contemporaries. The real star here is the guitar work: it is simply magnificent at times. Owensie’s partial falsetto, partial hushed vocal allows this to take centre-stage, and the album is buoyed as a result.
There is much to enjoy on Aliens. Comparisons to Nick Drake and Jose Gonzales feel a little lazy, yet they cannot be denied – there is a striking resemblance. Achingly sparse, Aliens has laid the groundwork to what could be a wonderful career.
Owensie’s album Aliens is blissful to listen to but difficult to describe and confirms the trueness of Costello’s comment on writing about music is like “… dancing about architecture.” The album is all about texture, atmosphere and charm. It’s a folk album of great depth where you can easily become submerged within the intricate finger picking of the guitar or the subtle layers of strings which accompany the tracks. However while admiring the beauty of the album I’m conscious that the vocals feel more like an instrument on the album rather than the focus point of the tracks. The result of this is that Aliens does not grab my full attention and leaves me feeling that something is missing!
All of the songs from Owensie’s self-titled debut EP are included here with the wonderful instrumental ‘Ronda’ nestled mid album. Of the four new tracks I adore ‘Lonely Wood’ which reminds me of Pink Moon era Nick Drake with that haunting cello behind the quality guitar playing. ‘Subtle Connections’ is for me the best track on the album due to the vocal melodies blending with the strings towards the end of the track. ‘Dark Place’ is a song where the lyrics are unrecognisable but the vocals provide a layer of instrumentation and charm. The piano led ‘Cat and Mouse’ is another strong song.
Aliens is a fine album with charm and atmosphere in abundance. I would have enjoyed it more if Owensie’s quality vocals were not blended into the musical backdrop as much as they were. It is definitely an album worth checking out if you’re looking for a chilled out folk album with superb musicianship!
That’s what we think, what about you? Aliens was launched on Out on a Limb on February 4, 2011. You can buy a copy for €8 from here or have a listen below:
Owensie: Aliens by OOAL
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