What I Listened To When I Listened To Music This Week – Owl & Mouse – Somewhere To Go

The T-word, enough to turn even the most mild mannered of indie band into fits of rage and profanity, usually ending with “we’re not fucking twee”

But what is twee? Where did it come from? Can we destroy it and everything is stands for?

Well the Oxford Dictionary defines twee as “excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty or sentimental”… so how come everyone says Belle & Sebastian are twee? What’s quaint about The Boy With The Arab Strap? It’s got the line “you’re constantly updating your hit parade of your ten biggest wanks” in it, oh Stuart Murdoch you’re so gosh darn sentimental, you cheeky scamp, have a vintage boiled sweet.

Stop me if I’m wrong here but what happened between C-86 and first Great British Bake Off that led them to become in many people’s mind one and the same? What is it about indie-pop that makes everyone think of cupcakes and tea?

Why is twee so offensive though? I mean it’s hardly a major insult right? WRONG! It’s the equivalent of taking a musician’s lifetime of work into making a song straight from the heart and saying it’s as relevant as a girl in a polka dot dress who thinks she’s going to make a living out of selling cupcakes with a picture of a tea pot on the top, the pointless, frivolous fool!

Allo Darlin’ write songs about travelling the globe, the isolation of being miles from home and away from the people you love. What’s quaint about that? Hefner wrote hymns to both Alcohol & Cigarettes, that’s got more in common with Oasis than it has with sewing!

Basically Indie-Pop and Twee are not one and the same, occasionally they might stumble into being happy bed fellows, but I’m still going to go to Indietracks and not eat a single cupcake! Take that Twee, may you collapse in on yourself, in a ball of retro-leaning, self-congratulation, choke on an iced finger (because that’s a proper baked good) and be found face down in a tea pot shaped swimming pool, full of the tears of those of us who choose to live in the real world, not your false, wasn’t life great during in the war horse-crap.

Ah I feel much better now, anyone want a cup of Yorkshire Tea? Now that’s a proper cup of tea, strong enough to hold your spoon up like an antenna to heaven!

OWL & MOUSE – SOMEWHERE TO GO

If you’re wondering what all the twee talk (rant) was all about, Owl & Mouse are probably exactly the sort of band who get called twee. Most of their songs are based around a ukelele, they’ve got a female singer with a soft voice, and occasionally they even dare to sing a harmony or two, the bloody criminals, string them up in the court of twee right now…

But hang on a second, there’s actually nothing very quaint, or overly sentimental here. In fact this, their debut ep, is full of some very genuine, honest numbers. There are sex references, mentions of nobel prize winning authors, and a very modern American drama series. There’s also no mention of food, thank heavens, I share Guy Garvey’s opinion that little or no good has come from singing about food!

Owl & Mouse are these days an anglo-australian 4 piece, the brainchild of singing, ukelele playing, front woman Hannah Botting. They have developed a strong reputation amongst the Indie-pop community as a very exciting live band, most of their sets are met with a sort of hushed reverence, the crowd straining to hear Hannah’s delicate voice, and the bands minimal backing. They are something of a go to support band on the London scene, partly because they are quite hard to pigeonhole. They are folk enough to support folk bands, pop enough to support indie-pop acts, and generally very unlikely to offend anyone; I don’t mean that as an insult, but when you have sat through hundreds of completely inappropriate and overly loud support slots, sometimes you just want something comforting, and very likeable.
For all the success of their live act, as a recording act, they are something of a new prospect. This is their first proper ep, so there has only previously been singles, tracks on compilations and solo ep’s from Hannah on her own. Now signed to Fika Recordings, we can but hope this is the first leanings towards the band releasing an album proper. Four-tracks long, this EP represents a natural progression for the band, fleshing out Hannah’s solo ukulele work with a delightful backing, sister Jen Botting add’s backing vocals, and like First Aid Kit they seem to naturally hit harmonies that would elude other duo’s. The backing throughout is incredibly subtle, bass is used almost to emphasise the fragile sound of the ukulele rather than to add any drive or bounce. Keyboards dance around notes, but are light and warm, no glacial synths or drones for this lot!

The closest thing they get to a departure is Western Skies, where bass player Tom takes on lead vocal duties, Hannah relegated to backing vocals. His voice is good, a warm, deep thing that recalls Iron & Wine. It adds another string to their bow and whilst he’s not yet going to challenge for the role of lead singer, unlike when John Henderson sang Let Me Go, on Camera Obscura’s debut Underachievers Please Try Harder, he doesn’t drag the record down. Indeed the shared vocal duties on the track work really well, Tom backed by both female vocals giving it a deep vocal structure and lead it to be the album surprise musical stand out! It starts off life with a simple strummed ukulele, joined by a low gentle bass line, it recalls the work of Allo Darlin’ (Hannah’s brother Bill is their bass player) Lyrically it appears to be a romantic tale of starcrossed lovers, then takes a surprise twist as Tom notes “I know I’m just killing time” and latterly “I just need to fill the hours, because I’m waking up and letting you down” whilst not the most original sentiment ever put to record it’s notably downbeat as indeed the whole ep is. The true star of the track is a delightful violin part, that gradually worms it’s way to the front of the mix, and adds a classically folk twist to proceedings.

If Western Skies is a departure from old work, Don’t Read The Classics is the old work: a track that’s been knocking about the bands live set for a long time. It’s entirely deserving of a re-release though as it’s probably Hannah’s best song. They refrain from playing around with the instrumentation here and the echoing lo-fi production of the ukulele and vocal, creates a wonderful intimacy, only joined by the odd cooing backing vocal. Entirely necessary for such an intimate song, it’s something of a tear jerker, and the vocal even seems to quiver slightly as she sings a harrowing tale of being used for sex, by a man who can’t be “a fucking man, and just be honest” The whole track leaves the listener with an overwhelming sense of both understanding and guilt, as surely everyone been on both sides. In love with someone who doesn’t love you, or accidentally playing on someone’s heart strings. The emotion in Hannah’s performance is stunning, and it’s clearly a very raw subject, her lyrics a mixture of self-loathing and anger, and latterly an attempt to be strong, “you should know, from now on, if you call me, I won’t come”

Opening track Don & Anna, as you may have guessed references Madmen, “we’re just like Don & Anna, he loves her, but not like that, she made the aching go away, she made the solitude ok” It’s largely about recalling good times “you made my day before it started” and wishing “every day could be like this” as ever though there’s a twist and as it plays out we again find Hannah absurdly in love and at the same time “it’s so clear to everyone, that I’m coming undone” The track again features some delightful violin playing, and the outro recalls Slow Club, all triumphant, soaring female oh oh ohing. It’s quite delightful but feels like it could have gone another couple of minutes so we could reach more of a lyrical conclusion.

Terrible Things closes the EP, bringing to mind Alessi’s Ark, who is vocally an obvious comparison with Hannah, both share a delightful fragility, whilst also carrying some heavy subjects. Musically it sets some delightful warm, meandering keyboard, to a gently strummed uke, whilst the backing vocals are a delight throughout the track. Lyrically it’s about escapism when there’s nowhere to escape to. “There is something in you, that brings out the best in me. Let’s get on this train, I wanna go somewhere, and I can’t wait to have somewhere to go” It’s the most upbeat track on the album and shows there’s more to them than heartbreak and despair, indeed a hint of sunshine suits them well.

The EP is a delight, and darker than many would give the band credit for. It’ll be too subtle for some tastes, and over the course of an album they’ll need to find a touch more variety in the songwriting, but there’s time for that. It hints at a gentle evolution of their sound, and given time they could turn out to be very special indeed.

Somewhere To Go is out now on Fika Recordings. 

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