Owl & Mouse – Departures

A riddle to start today – what is Andy to Thom? Chris to Mick? Trace to Miley?

The answer, of course: they’re the less well known siblings of the stars! Andy Yorke is a solo artist and the lead singer of relatively successful 1990’s band Unbelievable Truth; Thom Yorke is a solo artist and the singer in arguably the biggest band on the planet, Radiohead.

Chris Jagger released two albums in the 1970’s and dreamt of being a rockstar; his big brother Mick is still a big enough star to headline Glastonbury at the age of 72.

Trace Cyrus is the lead singer in the sort of vaguely known rock-band Metro Station; Miley Cyrus caused the Internet, and Sinead O’Connor to have a mild break down by riding around naked on a wrecking ball and making out with a sledge hammer!

There’s plenty more examples from Heather Woods and Peter Broderick, Martha and Rufus Wainwright through to the, infinitely more interesting than her sister, Solange and Beyoncé Knowles. A successful sibling can cast a difficult shadow to escape, especially if like Owl & Mouse’s Hannah Botting, your brother is the moustachioed, Obelix like giant of a bass player in Allo Darlin’.

Owl & Mouse – Departures

There’s a line in Octopi, the latest single from Owl & Mouse‘s debut album Departures, that rather sums the album up, “it’s not that it hurts it’s just not meant to feel this way.” Departures is an album of gentle heartache, not dramatic earth shattering, boy done me wrong, heartbreak. It’s an album that paints the many shades of sadness that unrequited loves stains us all with.

On an old favourite, the stripped back ukelele ballad Louie, singer and band leader Hannah Botting sings of how, “you only turned away because you will never feel the same” and how, “you told me it’s hopeless, and I guess that’s true, but I’m still going to wait for you.” It’s a deep aching kind of sadness, but one you can imagine her friends, in a supportive kind of way, telling her to pull herself together about. Hannah paints the picture of someone who’s knowingly contributing to her own pain.

There is of course, a danger of reading too much into the lyrics. It’s easy to assume that all these heartaches are the same one, and when the rich baritoned Tom Wade takes the lead on Sinking Song, you can even begin to picture him as representing the man of whom the majority of the album seems to be written about. He sings uninterestedly of how he’s, “still not bored of having you around.”, and openly discusses his lack of options, “all of my friends are in love with each and none of your friends seems that bothered”, and with hints of Bill Callahan or Magnetic Fields, ends rather crudely on, “you’re just something I can sink around and into.” Realistically Departures is probably not about one crushing semi-relationship, but an album full of all of the pain and troubles of youth and young womanhood; of growing up, moving across the world and the strains of simultaneously feeling the need to exist in two places as once.

Musically, Departures is an album of subtle progression. Last year’s Somewhere To Go EP was the first signs of Owl & Mouse moving on from their beginnings as a duo and becoming a full blown band and Departures is a logical progression from there. There’s plenty of the sparse balladeering that marked their early EPs, but there’s also some much richer, denser numbers. Sick Of Love is based around the slowly descending refrains of a buzzing organ and gentle meandering bass, Octopi closes with a beautiful burst of fluttering electronics, reminiscent of Elbow‘s more recent output. Whilst the excellent Worst Kiss starts of as gentle piano-led number, the sparsely used keys throughout are a joy, oddly reminiscent of Cat Power’s The Greatest, before giving way to subtle percussion and layers of pulsing strings, possibly their most mature piece of song writing to date.

The most enjoyable moment here though is the title track. Departures, features a wonderfully lilting electric guitar riff, as Hannah spins a tale of the pain of constant departures, and gorgeous layers of horns play out a melancholy melody in the mould of Camera Obscura. It’s only just over two minutes long, but with the fabulous layered vocals in the chorus paints a picture of where the band could go next.

That is not to say it’s a perfect album, there’s moments here where the lyrics are a little cloying, “I couldn’t have loved you better, you were such a precious little thing” from Canvas Bags, or the too self-deprecating to the point of being infuriating, “I’ll hope that I’m enough for you” from the forgettable closing track Rapunzel. It is however an album of great potential, and one with some wonderful moments.

Owl & Mouse regularly reference other tracks in their lyrics; David Bowie‘s Heroes in Octopi, Withered Hand‘s New Gods in Keep Your Eyes Wide Open, and both Edwyn Collins, Falling and Laughing, and Belle & Sebastian, The State That I Am In, in Canvas Bags. The album closes with the line, “I’m afraid of taking it slow” if they can alleviate that fear they might just write something as universal as their influences, for now they’re an exciting new band with a bright future ahead of them.

Departures is out now on Fika Recordings. Owl & Mouse support Haiku Salut at The Lexington, August 9th.

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