reviewed by Chris Matei
It’s truly unfortunate that this, the fourth self-titled release from Eagle Lake Owls, also sees them off to the big wide world of needing to do things that aren’t being a band any longer: the band played its final-show-cum-record-release on June 4. Despite this, the Winnipeg group offers up something that Canadian music really needs right now: unpretentious, narrative-driven, emotionally charged folky alternative tunes that hearken back to a powerful relationship with specific places and times. Think of the successes that have been built on this kind of uniquely Northern penchant for local storytelling: “Bobcaygeon”, “One Great City,” even something like the fury of “Trainwreck 1979.” Great songwriting has never found a home in the generic: if a song could be about just anybody, could it really have that much important to say?
References to Winnipeg’s likely most-known resident storyteller, John K. Samson, and to the Weakerthans, are not out of place or accidental when it comes to describing Eagle Lake Owls. Vocalist Andy Cole certainly shares elements of Samson’s dry tonality, keen wit, delicate observational capacity and the ability to kick a simple refrain into a raw, emotional gear. All of these qualities get displayed on opener “Late to the Party.” The band sways with him from chamber-folk to impassioned zeal on “Animals in the Dark” and especially on “We’re In This For Tears,” where the distance between two lovers gets stretched as the lyrics subtly shift between “we’re in love like that” and “not in love like that.”
Even as they ramp from whimsy to thunder – making great use of dynamic movement and the introduction of swelling strings, trumpet, and other melodic highlights before the electric guitars carry their songs forward – the band avoids going for a “cinematic” production approach to underscore their bigger moments. This is not the type of alt-folk record that goes off on synth-and-feedback odysseys to make a point, or finds itself indulging in wide open space clichés. Instead, it lets its stories do the talking. It’s a hometown affair and it seems meant to play just as effectively live or stripped down in a hometown venue. Shame that we, aside from the attendees of June 4’s show at the Cavern in Winnipeg, aren’t going to get to experience it in that context as the band’s members move on to new and exciting projects.
Top Tracks: “We’re In This For Tears,” “Late to the Party”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)