As Long as We Try a Little
How, In My Bones
A Windful of Screams
Smoke Like Birds
White Flags Down
Could I But Dream That Dream Once More
Turning Rocks is the third album by transatlantic band Thus Owls. It’s both a scrapbook of memories and oral transmissions from an island in Sweden, and a sonic experiment in tone and colour recorded in Montreal by a band clearly finding its footing.
Turning Rocks is the result of a conscious effort on the part of husband and wife duo Simon and Erika Angell to follow a particular creative process. Whereas previous Thus Owls recordings sprang from Erika’s ongoing songwriting, and bigger studio experiments, Turning Rocks began as a more explicit attempt to create something lyrically and tonally cohesive. “I wanted to bring things together a bit,” Erika explains. They just had to figure out what that meant.
To achieve this they employed a kind of multi-media scrapbooking method, which Erika borrowed from the filmmaking world. They amassed a set of material—music, photos, poems—that fit with what they wanted to create; not only to use for inspiration, but also to communicate their vision with collaborators. Obviously music played an important roll in this inspirational inbox: “From Talk Talk, to some 70s Japanese surf-rock, Alice Coltrane, PJ Harvey and Gonzales piano stuff,” Simon lists. “We realized a lot of the things that was catching both our ears were those old vintage 60s organs,” he explains. “So we started buying a bunch of them: a Farfisa, a Wurlitzer,” he goes on, noting that their new keyboard player, Parker Shper, shared their enthusiasm for the older gear. “It was a nice fit,” he says, and it comes through on the recordings.
The album was recorded at Studio Fast Forward studios in Montreal. Not only was it the first time the band had recorded in Simon’s hometown, but it also happened to be the very first studio he had ever recorded in, as a teenager in the late nineties. He hadn’t been back since, but it proved a fruitful spot given the team that was employed, which included Montreal engineer Rob Heaney, and the Besnard Lakes’ Jace Lasek, who mixed the album at his own Breakglass Studios. Whereas the first two records had put the recording focus on choosing a big studio, “this time,” Simon explains, “it was more about who we wanted to work with.” In addition to Parker, the band had also recently added Montreal drummer Stefan Schneider as a permanent fixture of the group, and he along with Swedish bass player Martin Höper round out the core band on the recordings. Notable guests on the record include Timber Timbre’s Taylor Kirk (who sings on closer, “Thief”), Pietro Amato, and Marie-Pierre Arthur.
Lyrically the album followed a similar process as the music. “I got a little tired of writing about myself all the time,” Erika says. So instead she chose a specific place as a source of inspiration; she started writing songs based on true stories her grandmother had told her, about people and events in the tiny house and village they both grew up in on Orust, an island in Sweden just north of Gothenburg. “She was a little girl growing up on the exact same land and in the same house as I did,” Erika explains “so when she spoke about all those things I felt very connected to it, even though I had no idea about any of it.” The songs began to form naturally from there, with each one on the record drawing inspiration from some life somehow connected to that place. “As Long As We Try A Little,” for example, is about her grandmother’s two aunts, seamstresses who lived and worked together, and one of their untimely ends. “Smoke Like Birds” is inspired by her grandmother’s memory of being on the coast during the Second World War, and seeing the lights from a navel battle in the distance. It’s also about her failing eyesight in the present day.
The record’s artwork draws inspiration directly from Erika’s roots as well. Old photos of the home and Orust appear on the inside of the LP—including one of her grandmother as a young girl in the 1930s, in a picnic scene surrounded by family, listening to a phonograph.
Thus Owls have shared a second track from their forthcoming album Turning Rocks, entitled “How, In My Bones” via thusowls.com. The song - available as a free download online for a limited time only - is a fitting showcase for Thus Owls’s sound, with Erika Angell’s emotive vocal delivery complemented by some deft interplay between Simon Angell’s signature guitar-work and new keyboard player Parker Shper, who features on both Wurlitzer and Farfisa organs.
Turning Rocks will be released on April 8th and is available for pre-order as of today from Secret City's online store and iTunes.
On “As Long as We Try a Little”, Montreal-Stockholm husband-wife duo Thus Owls finds the drama in small gestures, both musically and thematically. Trained mostly on minimal piano lines and Erika Angell’s steadily climbing vocals, there’s a slowly gathering intensity that crescendos patiently, yet still to startling effect. Premiering here, the video for “As Long as We Try a Little”, directed by Joe Yarmush, matches the music’s mood, as it follows two brothers puzzling over a mysterious letter that, fittingly, says, “It’s time,” in Swedish.
I was a big fan of Montreal-based, Sweden-born husband-wife duo Thus Owls’ 2012 LP, Harbours, recorded in a village on the Seine in southern France but with a lost melancholy that suggests the trip was spent more huddled under umbrellas than stretching legs and lying in fields. Now, they’re back with its followup, Turning Rocks, out April 8th via Secret City. “As Long As We Try a Little” is its first single, and it doesn’t sound like the storm has quite passed, ending with a cloud-breaking finale and me feeling down as ever.
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