Lauren Rabaino

For your own safety, we’ll start out with a bit of disambiguation (just like Wikipedia): By 2001, two bands were playing under the following two names: “The Owls” and “Owls.” Now, I know they might look a bit similar, but trust me; it’s like chocolate and shit. Don’t mix them up. And don’t look for help from last.fm, since that train-wreck of a program drops the definite article and groups them together. Based in Chicago, “Owls” is essentially a forgettable reiteration of the long defunct and equally disposable emo-pop turd, Cap’n Jazz. Don’t listen to Owls; don’t eat shit.

The tasty treat you’ve really been craving is “Daughters and Suns,” the first full-length record from The Owls, which, like any good meal, is a diverse array of flavors. Although many bands are built around a single songwriter/composer, The Owls employ three of their present members for this duty, each writer taking on lead vocals for their respective songs. Surprisingly, this arrangement retains cohesion – plus it adds a fun little extra to the listening experience: choosing your favorite Owl.

First up, Maria May constructs cute-as-a-button twee-pop numbers whose sound might be described as that of late Heavenly (minus the guitar riffs), or perhaps a more optimistic and emotionally stable version of The Softies. “Peppermint Patty” is a great example, featuring a delightful burst of whistling to augment the gentle plinking of piano and delivery of lines like, “You will never have to hear the clever ones sayin’ you’re so dumb.” Fans of May’s work here should definitely check out The Owls’ debut EP, “Our Hopes and Dreams.”

Brian Tighe, front man of The Hang Ups, starting in 1990, concentrates on songs having a stronger emphasis on rhythm and uses traditional rock structures that remind me a bit of The Rolling Stones circa 1967 (or the Beatles circa 1965 for that matter). Check out “Channel” or “All Those In Favor” to see what I’m talking about. Toe-tapping is all but inescapable.

Finally, Allison LaBonne, former vocalist of Legendary Jim Ruiz Group, concentrates on gorgeous and literate balladry of exceptional quality with rousing harmonizing and triumphant melody. The lead track “The Way On” is a an excellent example of her sublime song-craft and disarming vocal delivery. (Fun game: guess which Owl is my favorite!).

Add in former Ashtray Hearts drummer, John Jerry, and production by Tighe (what a jack-of-all-trades) and we get a damn solid record.

More important than the mechanics though . is the pathos. This is some of the most heartfelt stuff of the year. I should probably elaborate on that (especially after knocking Cap’n Jazz). OK, the music is emotionally charged, yes, but in the most guileless, honest and unaffected way possible. The songs are just so devoid of scoffing irony and overwrought angst it’s startling. In 2007! How did this record get made? We’re talking about music that swells with such benevolent emotion as to evoke memories of your favorite Carpenters’ song!

And there’s something nice, yeah? I mean, even in the world of indie pop, how many records can you really listen to with your grandmother? Oh, what? Belle and Sebastian? You wanna trot Stuart Murdoch out here? Maybe if he didn’t write in all those thinly veiled allusions to illicit sexual deviance. The Polyphonic Spree? They have some squeaky-clean lyrics. Too bad they’re so obviously a scary suicide cult of unwashed hippies – from Texas, no less!

But The Owls exist without vice. In fact, their humanity is so impressive, I almost feel sorry for beginning this article by thoughtlessly spitting in the face of Cap’n Jazz fans. Almost.

Jesse Bo Widmark is an architectural engineering senior and a business director for KCPR, San Luis Obispo, 91.3 FM. He’s also completely full of it.

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