OWL JOHN ‘Owl John’ album review

Owl J

OWL JOHN

Owl John

(Atlantic Records)

This solo project from Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, written and recorded in two weeks on the Isle of Mull, was apparently a stop-gap to appease the frontman’s creativity en route to making his band’s fifth album. Generally, solo efforts make for pretty indulgent fodder – the artists in question (or questionable artists) usually citing constraints and a need to release some inner child or whatever.

With Owl John, such indulgent avenues are mercifully absent, Hutchison instead mining the sources of his songwriting savvy. The difference here, as opposed to being on Frightened duty, is that the songs are raw colours, less inhibited by the trappings of the ‘single’.

Opening track Cold Creeps emerges from a fogbank of guitar fuzz with a tribal march of drums, establishing a soundscape born of Scotland’s haunting beauty; Ten Tons Of Silence is a sonorous lament shrouded in mist and mystery, while Hate Music’s lugubrious cult-like incantation wouldn’t be out of place on Summerisle.

Songs About Roses showcases Hutchison’s contempt for the platitune (just made that word up: n. songs stuffed with romantic tripe), a sparse anti-ballad that cries: “We don’t need your terrible blues” – a musical thorn that adorns the floral cliché.

However, it’s not all Highland fillings. The album was partly recorded in the US, and Los Angeles, Be Kind is an ambivalent track that aligns itself to LA’s neon heart while also feeling exiled, its lamenting refrain “I get drunk just to feel I belong” demonstrating Hutchison can capture atmosphere in places other than those shrouded in mist.

Returning to the ether with Celtic-tinged Stupid Boy, the album closes on a poignant note, waving goodbye to a two-week project that has produced, for this writer, one of the best solo albums in recent memory, but also waving hello to a brighter future.

This Owl sanctuary has produced one free-range Rabbit.

Stephen Brolan

*This review is published in BrumNotes magazine

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