New Criticals

I Listened to the New Owls Track So You Don’t Have To No Really Please God Don’t


Goddammit, there I was, all ready to drop an opus matching my favorite records of 2013 to their corresponding NFL playoff teams, when Owls had to come lumbering back to life and shit in my bed again. Thanks, Owls; now the world will never know why Pusha-T is the Seattle Seahawks, and Yeezus is the Denver Broncos!  And to Sports Illustrated: call me!

For those who spent their adolescences doing productive things like running for student government or playing intramural lacrosse, Owls were a stop-gap band in the earl 2000s, sharing members with and transitioning between punk-ish emo pioneers Cap'n Jazz and yelpier weirdos Joan of Arc. Now, for reasons I must assume have to do with consumers only paying to see bands with decade(s)-old names, they are BACK: just as piddling and unnecessary as the first time, but with far darker implications.

In their initial incarnation, Owls were merely boring and disappointing. With their "twinkling" arpeggios and more superfluous drum flourishes than a Carter Beauford instructional video, they represented the moment when young, talented kids decided that technical complexity was more important than energy and ideas. This rendered their playing ticky-tacky and punchless, and the overlaid screams of portent which, in a nervier band like Cap'n Jazz, once aimed directly for the chest, began to sound listless and perfunctory. The new single sounds exactly bloody like this, the kind of song that can't keep your attention from wandering to clickbait about celebrities you didn't know were married (this may or may not be based on a true story...Jason Momoa and Lisa Bonet, who knew?!?).

I'm taking the time to stress (read: be a dick about) this now for reasons that don't have a ton to do with Owls themselves. Like I said: Owls weren't ever terrible, they were just always dull, and they still are. Rather, this particular instantiation of emo has become, in the ensuing years, the version that a shit ton of kids seem to remember clearest and, bafflingly, like the best – and, worse, start bands to sound like. So when Owls return, they do so not as charming relics, about whom we would say "Oh, my word, they're still together? Surely one of them would have opened up a dry cleaning business by now!" Instead, they SHIMMER like Gandalf the Fucking White, pillars of influence to whom the benefit of the doubt is due. That every single alt blog dilligently reported on this pfft's release should make you suspicious; that the commentary is more effusive than perfunctory (like here & here) and you start thinking Lizard People are pulling the strings.

For all my vitriol here, my problem is not with 'emo' itself. Emo's formal language remains essentially powerful if you use it right and actually interpret it rather than replicate it. Perfect Pussy, no matter how many people seem to want to call them a hardcore band, sound like Rites of Spring and early Cap'n Jazz to me, but they pump that through a scuzz filter, tweak the electronics and add a feminist perspective sorely lacking from a genre whose gender politics make Yeezy's weird conflation of lynching and the 'intentional pregnancy' myth seem progressive by comparison. If you haven't heard or seen Perfect Pussy yet, trust me: they are the shit.

And yet, it's probably not surprising that they are so unique in this regard, and that bands want to take the snoozy way out and lionize what is surely, The Used notwithstanding, the sub-genre's nadir. The spiritually similar realm of pop-punk deals with laziness in the opposite way: for every band that claims to be influenced by the exceptional Dillinger Four, there remains, in fact, just the one D4, and hundreds of bands that sound like something No Idea released because they lost a bet. They start from the right reference point and water down accordingly. Emo 'revival' bands are watering down from Chateau Diana; thankfully, because it's still early, we might be able to shout them into making different choices. If not, the next time you try to book a show, every band will full of teenagers doing American Football covers, and there will be nothing you can do about it.