“What will become of the truth when we keep it in? Things we don’t remember when they ask us when. We did the things that we learned we shouldn’t do again. What wasn’t learned from mistakes, we will make them.” These opening lyrics help to push a complex and beautiful Wake Owl EP titled Wild Country. The Vancouver duo, playing with a few others, create a wonderfully full sound on this sweet five song EP. From subtle guitars to savory violin and comfortable vocals, the album is a treat.
That first song shows that Wake Owl have daring in their songwriting. They don’t just strum chords and sing simple lyrics. They are genre-bending, blurring the lines of folk, acoustic, and country music. In one sense they’re the sound that we’ll never hear on the radio. But, at the same time, they are the sound that we always hear on the radio. They do “pop” and “country” in ways that no one else is really doing them, but by definition that’s what they do.
The second song “You’ll Never Go” has a snazzy syncopated beat that conjures up the best of 90s alternative rock, stripped to its acoustic base. “Oh but don’t you say you never loved somebody…” A nostalgic tune about life well lived. When the band fills in, including keys and variety percussion, the song has a poppy folk sound a la The Lumineers. That’s pretty good company. In fact, that’s a pretty good indicator for your friends. “Hey friends… if you like the Lumineers, you should try out Wake Owl.”
The finger picking that initiates the track “Gold” will have even the most seasoned folk fan pricking up their ears. “So didn’t you find love or salvation in what they do? Heart is built of gold… ferries they are too… it’s in the hands you hold. How long can we ignore we build a little more and then we break our true?” Now, I may have misquoted a few of those lyrics, but this sounds like a song critical of what sociologists call “conspicuous consumption.” It’s ultimately a song about the “good life.” One of the key lyrics, all written over a strings-influenced folk sound, explains, “Let’s grab the heart of the world and turn them to the light.” Now there’s a fantastic lyric in a good song. Congrats Wake Owl… that’s the kind of thing that gets a nomination for song of the year in my book.
“Grow” sounds like it could have emerged straight from the 1960s. Although it’s a typical “acoustic rock” song, the layered guitars and what sounds like a steel guitar in the background give it some interesting flavor. The “ohhs” don’t write well in a review, but really do make the song. The lyrics seem to be about a past relationship. The album ends with another single-word title “Seaside,” a song that works hard to create a picture of a beach in its aesthetic strums. The vocals on this track seem a little less polished and the song itself doesn’t seem to fit the style on the rest of the album. That said, it’s better than most of what’s been released by a lot of bands this year.
The takeaway on this EP is go ahead and get it. If you’re interested in the emerging “folk revival” bands like The Lumineers, this is a definite buy. These guys will definitely continue to improve in their songwriting. There’s an evident element of creativity that helps the words and music really “click” on songs, especially “Gold” on this album. So beyond the quality here, that promising songwriting will keep our ears on this band for many years.