Inspector Owl - Life Finds a Way (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Inspector Owl

Life Finds a Way (2007)

Third World Industries

The computer is a soulless instrument. No matter how many loops a program has, and no matter how many ways you can distort the pitch, the same sampled symbol crash gets old after the 1,417th time and the beeping cheesy keyboard effects start to loose their appeal after few hours. But, on the other hand, computer instruments can create sounds that simply can't be created in real life -- both physically and economically*. Weaving the two together can prove to be interesting or distasteful. On their latest EP, Life Finds a Way, Illinois' Inspector Owl show that they know just how sew the digital to the analog to make some really trippy patchwork.

Riding on the Polyphonic Spree / Flaming Lips' icy but soft-sounding vibe, Inspector Owl has released six cuts that range the usual Generation X topics such as "Why am I here?" and "Why are world economics they way they are?" And just like their influences, they usually don't answer the questions. This is fitting to their music, however, because the album features several curious choices of instruments including synthesized organs, synthesized accordions, and synthesized violins. But, by painting real instruments played passionately on top of an artificial canvas, Inspector Owl creates a really neat dichotomy in their music. After a while it's hard to pick out which instruments are real and which aren't, and at times, the two instruments blend together in such a way it seems as though some of them morph back and fourth from being computer created to products of the fingers.

Inspector Owl also excels where many other Lips-influenced bands fail -- variety. Although the usual icy melancholy dominates the EP, Inspector Owl is able to provide examples of the many different types of sadness. Some of the wails range from utter desperation to I-am-happy-so-why-am-I-still-sad shouts of glee. The group deftly picks up the pace on some parts of songs to build intensity only to let it drift away. This is where the group is at their most experimental. On "The Gentlemen's Duel," the group blends weird sound effects and dubbed sounds onto their airy rhythms only to bring in a horde of discordant instruments only to finally snap it all away.

While the sounds of the EP are very lush and wailing vocals fit the piece very well, one can only take so many chorus' of extended vowels. While we don't get anywhere near Bono territory, a different approach to the singing here and there would make the different musical styles even more evident. Still, on an EP you can only do so much, right?

Remember how on "Batman: The Animated Series," writer Paul Dini was able to take one of Batman's cheesiest villains, Mr. Freeze, and somehow make him the most touching character of all? Well, somehow, by blending the mechanical with the corporeal, Inspector Owl has made am extremely rich and personal release. While the computer beats by themselves would sound like they were straight off the latest Moby sampler, Inspector Owl has given the laptop some real personality and stole some of its coldness for its own use. If Mr. Freeze does have a CD that spins while he mourns his beloved from inside a refrigerated prison cell, I am sure that it's Life Finds a Way.

* - Still, I shudder to think what would have happened if Brian Wilson or John Lennon had Fruity Loops in 1966.