The youthful lamb within the flock, curled up and afraid, waiting to be found. In a dark scene filled with the unrelenting sounds of screeching guitars and maniacal yells, this is Owl Paws. Their pristine, twangy guitars laid over rich acoustic progressions, steady backbeats, and angelic vocal harmonies are the warm hug waiting for you after the show by said maniac. Their folk-indie musings bring to mind great acoustic acts such as City and Colour, Bright Eyes, early Spill Canvas and Neutral Milk Hotel. With their new self-titled release, Owl Paws chips away at a local scene sculpted by toughness to reveal the soft and warm underbelly.
While Owl Paws stick with the more traditional rock instruments throughout the album, sparse hellos of less traditional instruments weave in and out, appearing at precise moments as if their number had just been called in the waiting room. Xylophones tiptoe on top of steel strings in "Party Johnson", horns keep the melancholy party going in the outro of "Reluctant", and violins drop tears in the ballad "Eyes of the Prey". What's even better is they rock the upright bass, a little-used instrument outside of certain genres, and generally not this one.
Themes of love, life meaning and the hardships of being a musician in an increasingly relentless world conduct the beautiful symphony of melodies heard on the album. Love is a multi-dimensional thing and singer/songwriter Derek Schultz covers almost all bases: fear; heartbreak; late nights; and the unspoken feelings we all encounter as we make eye contact with that special someone. In "Sleepless and Hollow", Schultz desperately moans "Both hands on my sides / the chalk lines are still white / I'm the kind of liar you want to listen to / I'll never be the one to break the bad news," showing his warmheartedness that breaks through on many of the tracks.
Schultz and lead guitarist/backup vocalist Colin Hayes match vocal harmonies to a key and sound much like a fusion of a clearer, higher-pitched Conor Oberst and a weaker Dallas Green. Where Hayes really shines is on his shimmering lead progressions, more specifically the beginning of "Vultures", which invites the listener into a poppy dance number that embeds itself in the listener's mind, returning to you as you conduct your day. Backed by the steady movement of drummer Tyler Atkins dancing around his cymbals like a bobblehead on the top of your car's dashboard and bassist Tim Vickers revving the song's engine, "Vultures" draws listeners from their chair and onto the dance floor. Atkins and Vickers provide a strong rhythm section, steadily swaying throughout the album providing nothing too flashy, but constant, creating excellent dynamics.
Recorded at Schultz's home, at the Complex SF and mixed by Sam Pura of Panda Studios, the quality of the album comes out well for a semi-DIY recording. My only complaint is the drums sound a bit flat, possibly to accompany the fat, low tones of the upright bass, but nevertheless could have been raised a bit. A more varied song structure wouldn't hurt, either; the soothing, swaying sounds heard on the album are great but a step outside of these borders would really be saying something for the band.
Other than those minor flaws, Owl Paws delivers a very solid debut EP, leaving listeners entranced and craving more.