wears the trousers magazine

thus:owls: cardiac malformations (2010)
March 1, 2010, 11:20 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , ,

Cardiac Malformations ••••
Almost Musique

On ‘Climbing The Fjelds Of Norway’, the third track on this debut album by Swedish five-piece Thus:Owls, vocalist Erika Alexandersson sings, “When I was a child I climbed the fjields of Norway / I could never reach the peak of the mountain / there was always another one behind it”. As it happens, this description of her formative mountaineering experiences also serves as a pretty accurate allegory for the Cardiac Malformations listening experience. Songs take their own sweet time to develop and the few discernible hooks are delivered slowly and deliberately so you never feel able to quite get the measure of its eleven tracks. Put simply, it’s hard work. But, give it a fair hearing and you’ll find that your efforts pay handsome dividends in the form of some truly beautiful musical vistas. A bit like climbing a mountain, then.

Alexandersson’s sullen, on-the-brink-of-tears vocals recall those of fellow Swedes Victoria Bergsman and The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson. But these vocal similarities provide the only obvious opportunity for new listeners to gain purchase on Cardiac Malformations’ challenging terrain. Although it’s not especially experimental in a formal sense, this is a highly distinctive, musically wily album. Thus:Owls are a nimble, enterprising outfit, able to change approaches to suit the needs of the song, be it demented jazz (‘Sometimes’, ‘A Volcano in My Chest’), Vespertine-era Björk twinkliness (‘When She Arrived’) and even a pocket-sized aria on closer ‘The Atlantic’. The only real constants are Alexandersson’s vocals and a pervading dolour.

‘The Sun is Burning Our Skin’ is the album’s most straightforwardly pretty moment; Alexandersson’s repetition of the words “Let your shoulders rest” during the chorus provides a rare moment of reassurance in an album that seems haunted by some undefined yet imminent danger. ‘Let Your Blood Run’ is another highlight, vacillating expertly between squally, Bad Seeds-style Dust Bowl rock and quieter, piano-led passages. It takes a special band to be able to pull this type of thing off without ending up with a cluttered, unpalatable mess, and it’s testament to Thus:Owls’ musical chops that they’re able to do just that.

The caveat bears repeating: this isn’t an easy listen. Cardiac Malformations shouldn’t be listened to passively during a morning commute; indeed, anyone unlucky enough to encounter the atonal first minute of ‘A Volcano in My Chest’ while stuck in a crowded tube carriage may well experience a breakdown, panic attack, or both. But, provided you’re willing to meet the band halfway, Cardiac Malformations offers some of the year’s most affecting music so far.

Christopher Monk
UK release date: 08/03/10; www.myspace.com/thusowls


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