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Shmat's Reviews
For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

Masterpiece (CD-R)

This must be the fourth or fifth disc of material I've gotten from the prolific Z. Carroll and K. Martin collective known as Owen. Firstly, before you get your mental indie catalog all in a tizzy, there's another band named "Owen" which is put together by Joan of Arc's Mike Kinsella which is out on Polyvinyl. This Owen, whose At The Races I've reviewed previously, is put out by San Francisco's Girl In A Box Records. The dangerously self-congratulatory title of the newest disc is Masterpiece, and although that's perhaps a misnomer, it's clear that Owen has progressed and gotten better over the past couple of years. I'm feeling like that hockey announcer on ESPN now, when he makes the mistake of focusing on a particular player in his dialogue but has nothing remarkable to say, so he merely gushes "...and [name of hockey player] just keeps getting better and better!!"

But truthfully, I definitely dug this album more than the previous one. Owen's brand of lo-fi, rambling misadventures can get a bit rambunctious and confusing to say the least. But I really found a lot to like in the first 4 tracks of this disc. It's almost like a completely different band. The opening track "Stuart", while employing standard chords and arpeggios, is mellow and tender like a Pedro the Lion song, punctuated only by the occasional ring of a chime or bell. "South Sea" features a spacey distorted electric guitar, with monotonic yet strangely appealing vocals. The instrumental "Grandma's Ghost" is a washed out dream of bass and reverb textures. "Tijuana Trolley" continues the feel of "South Sea", and ends up sounding like a cross between drony Yo La Tengo and slightly goofy Neutral Milk Hotel. And there's that strange bell sound again, is that a triangle?

Those were pretty much my favorite songs... the tracks afterwards like the simplistic "Blanket and Robe", the faux porch-swaggering "Good 'Til Jackson", and the Sex Pistols wannabe "I'm Done" just didn't do it for me. I like a band that has an arsenal of styles under their belts, but these were just so strikingly different than the beginning of the album. One bright point in the latter half of the disc was a hilarious little interlude of funny voices as the band decides to huff helium and record the results. Appropriately titled, "Helium", you can hear rustling in the background which is ostensibly them passing around a balloon of the gas. Yeah, don't give me that Clintonesque crap about how you tried it when you were young but didn't inhale...

The minimalistic "AM Hum", while a little too spare to really be a true song, seems set to continue the trend of the first four tracks. But the porch rambling "Back Home In Missoula", complete with a dude snoring in the background, pans a-clangin', and squeaking rocking chair brought the band back to square one. Is it a sin to experiment constantly? No, definitely not. But I think that after the initial early musical collision of styles that bands often go through, there is usually some sort of focusing of energy on at least 1 or 2 particular styles. That said, I think the vehicle known as Owen has managed to steer itself onto an excellent road. And though the travelling may get a bit bumpy at times, if their future stuff is reminiscient of those first couple of tracks, I think I may sign up for the ride.

- review by BY (5.17.04)        

Girl In A Box Records
390 Laguna Drive
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

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