The mighty oak of offbeat emo that is Cap’n Jazz has dropped an impressive number of genre touchstone acorns. Brothers Tim and Mike Kinsella made their marks with a few projects each (respectively, Joan of Arc and Owen standing tallest), Victor Villareal and Sam Zurick went on to Ghosts and Vodka, and Davey von Bohlen formed The Promise Ring. Aside from von Bohlen, the members have cycled around, working with each other on various projects, but Owls was their actual band, formed seven years post-Jazz. After a year or so of existence and a stellar jazz/punk self-titled record, Owls dropped off the radar, only to reappear now, 13 years later, with the appropriately titled Two, sounding as mercurial and compelling as ever.
Then again, the Kinsellas aren’t the type of dudes to go around promoting their own importance. “I’ll never be/ Some scientist, hero, action, wizard,” Tim shrugs on “I’ll Never Be…”, floating free over snakes of math-y guitar and Sam Zurick’s bent bass. Clear, biographical lyrics aren’t the name of the game, either (these are the guys who made “Little League” opening line “Hey coffee eyes/ You got me coughing up my cookie heart” a tattoo-able anthem, after all). On “Why Oh Why…”, the stream of consciousness gets a little upsetting: “That guy applied that lost and found Chapstick/ A waiter with bad breath/ You dropped your chill pickle in hot sand.” But in the way that maturity revealed itself via Joan of Arc pushing confidently further into its own weirdness and Owen looking at mortality and aging, there are signs of an older, burdened version of Owls here as well. “I’m surprised and I admit it/ I’m surprised it’s true/ to have grown up, to become/ It’s a man that worries his friends,” Tim clangs on “I’m Surprised…”, before adding that he carries chocolate everywhere, sings like a crooked seahorse, and floats like a cello.
That familiar combination of confessional tone and obtuse imagery finds its match in the instrumentation’s ability to bounce between meandering exploration and punchy, fist-pumping moments. Mike Kinsella’s tight drumming does a fair amount of the stitching, but Villareal and Zurick expertly turn on a dime on tracks like the quick-twitch “It Collects Itself…”, the sort of intricate chemistry that comes with playing together for decades. The burning embers of “A Drop of Blood…” tighten the screws to close the album, a lean scrapper that shows that together these four can be a dangerous bunch. Thirteen years was a long wait for another Owls record, but the Kinsellas, Zurick, and Villareal have a flexibility and prodigious ability to create that allows them to come together when they need to rather than forcing themselves into a rut. This is no high-profile nostalgia-grab, just another iteration of these four longtime friends and talented musicians producing art, a strong counter-example to the backlash against the often soulless reunion movement.
Essential Tracks: “Why Oh Why…”, “A Drop of Blood…”, and “I’m Surprised…”