Jack Colwell and the Owls have stripped the dense electronic forests of his debut EP White Noise for his first LP Picture Window.
Colwell paints a bleak moor of mediæval castles, dark Germanic forests and his allegorical quest to find love in an unforgiving world. Nihilistic it may sound but hope springs eternal for the young classical zeitgeist.
Like a wounded wolf, Jack howls and moans his tale with the restless piano driving his search. The compositions owe much to classical harmony, primal gothic rhythms, choral vocal lines and the charming fugal conversation between Jack’s piano and flautist/recordist Hayden Woolf’s countermelodies.
Jack’s power lies in his voice. It’s a primal instrument that possesses a dense warble yet a delicate frailty and crack. For those who need references there is part of the Antony Hegarty sadness, the dense gothicism of Nick Cave and the rawness of Fiona Apple.
His lyrics all borrow from mysticism, the Middle Ages and morbidity. The central theme is abundantly clear – he is thirsting for love. The clarity of his message and its consistency has to be admired, but the album as a unit does not provide many different facets or personas to his cause. He plays the bruised heart, sometimes a bit too often.
The gothic punk ‘Banquet’, demonstrates that Jack doesn’t take everything lying down. Its primal plea of carnality shows the fighter inside, he demands to cannibalise his prey beckoning like a mammalian Siren. It’s a track that is rather frightening and contrasting, but its scream of lust is the album’s great climax.
The production of the album draws from autumnal palette of the piano, tambourine, woodwinds, wild strings and distant roomy backing vocals. Often in harmony with Jack’s growl, their presence is a triumph in the album because it colours Jack’s voice without being a distinct or upstaging vocal personality. The album shows a remarkable maturity from densely layered White Noise by letting each line breathe and blossom on its own. Even with the addition of the crystalline voice of Bridezilla’s Daisy M. Tulley (in the pleading duet ‘Waiting For Thee’, each voice and line does not get overpowered.
The ending track ‘Pigeons & Peacocks’ is where the gauze is lifted and he begins to reveal himself for the modern day man he is. It is the hope of the piece, telling us that everything is alright. The play is done and love will be found.
This hope is what triumphs over the otherwise cloud of depression and melancholy that colours the album. Its references to Nico, Tori Amos and the Kate Bush’s song suite The Ninth Wave give the album technical variety but the harmonically gloomy world can be draining on the listener. Only when ‘Pigeons & Peacocks’ enters is there a chink of light. The piano still has a sombre note to it, but the message is more optimistic with the type of Beatles-esque harmonic progression.
No doubt though, that this album is beautiful, but may be a little harrowing for some listeners.
Jack has delivered an accomplished work, showcasing his considerable compositional talents and created a cohesive and absorbing record. It’s a clever, emotional and lyrical, the type of music that a wandering bard would sing to court a dashing prince. Jack is the wanderer, and it is worth joining him on his quest.