Artists of the Year

The Owls

By Peter S. Scholtes

I've praised the Owls in City Pages enough that I thought this time I'd mark the occasion with something special and propose to my girlfriend. Jenny, will you marry me? I'll await your answer on the letters page.

The Owls have this effect on me. Whatever makes songs catchy has been around as long as songs, yet this alchemy is mysterious enough that I've gone for years and through stacks of records without experiencing anything like my recent bond with Daughters and Suns, the Owls' debut full-length from this fall.

For weeks, my (hopefully soon-to-be) fiancée and I woke up and went to bed with these tunes in our heads. "What's yours now?" I'd ask.

"'Peppermint Patty.'"

"Mine's 'Peaceful Place.'"

"Oh, wait, now that's mine, too."

It took Christmas music to break the cycle. Maybe the reason is that the Owls evoke something like the act of remembering itself—a subjective thing, I realize. Their sonic references (folk, the Kinks, the Beatles) belong to "the '60s," which I experienced firsthand for less than two months as a baby, and have been catching up with ever since. On "Welcome to Monday," they revive the common childhood fantasy of life as something planned out for you by mysterious forces, that it's all just a show for you. Since the three voices in the Owls—one male, two female—express something childlike, a kind of soft blankness, having them as a mental soundtrack can be like viewing reality through a snow globe. "Welcome" has its literal sci-fi meaning—it turns out you're a hologram, as electronic as the synthesizer accompaniment by John Crozier—and also a suggestive one: that adult life is a disappointment, and that other people—those behind what '60s kids called "the system"—are responsible.

I hear the protest music of dreams, in other words. Heavy on arrangement, light on inflection or any conspicuous show of technique, these songs seem to have been imagined whole by the Owls and transmitted straight into their still-learning fingers and all-too-human throats. The words just occur to their singers, which makes the recoiling horror at war ("I can't believe the news today") and the sensible impulse to improve ("There's a lot to be done, and we've not begun") sound felt rather than composed. And if the last punk-inspired four-piece on earth to still switch instruments is in fact a democratic model—and one built around a marriage, no less—then that seems felt, too.

Peter S. Scholtes is a former staff writer for City Pages, and is writing a book about hip hop in Minnesota.

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