Weird Owl - "13 Arrows, 13 Stars" (Ever the Silver Cord be Loosed)
The 1970s have become the permanent center of gravity for rock music. Looking back at how they were perceived at the time, there was complaining about fragmentation of the love-in ‘60s, where rock and soul and folk and blues stewed together and shared the stage. But popular music was getting too big, too international, too in the center of the culture to remain a singular current. Recording technology reached a sophistication where subsequent advancements have all been diminishing returns. Plenty of discs from 1972 sound contemporary in a way that isn’t true of even the epics from a few years before, like Sgt. Pepper’s, where they layers still had to be bounced between four tracks.
So, until everyone tires of the 4/4 beat, any new artist is likely to hearken to some ‘70s antecedent. Weird Owl probably doesn’t see it as a burden. They hail from the Stoner Rock league, southwest division. They aren’t mind-expanding as much as mind obliterating. Like their peers, the lyrics could be pulled from a tarot card reading. In their case, the cards are laid out in the bed of a pickup, after a night in the desert, the revelers wrapped in Indian blankets, waiting for the sun to rise. These are heavy but meandering songs, throbbing with guitar effects, but still possessing Crazy Horse’s back-to-the-land feel. They’re from Brooklyn, but that doesn’t matter. Convincing Canterbury pastoral-prog is coming from Swedes like Dungen and Dead Man, while actual contemporary Anglo-Saxons such as Diagonal are making lesser attempts.
When the dissolving hardcore scene first backtracked through this era, they mostly ignored the occult and the acoustic, favoring the bombast. Those bands (the Buttholes, Green River) modeled songs on “Cinnamon Girl.” Weird Owl is going for “Cowgirl in the Sand,” where mood trumps volume. And they get to that summit a few times. On “Tobin’s Spirit Guide,” dry guitars trudge through badlands. The destination is the out-of-mind, yet affecting hook of “So it’s tragic / everything I see /it’s magic.”
In a lot of ways, it’s the guileless outlook that make this stuff fresh. Even the hippy originators didn’t have this kind of dedication to the mystic – they were still looking for a woman to ravage all the time, or bitching about the injustice of 30 days in the hole. When Weird Owl compare a woman to Isis, it’s not flattery: the singer is so scorched, the girl is pouring out “pure light.” The single-minded pursuit of mindlessness also limits this scene – as they’re out chasing spirit guides, a lot of these records lose focus. So far, only Entrance’s Prayer of Death has hit me as a front-to-back classic. But the heights here are well worth the songs that wander off the edge of the butte. In that sense, maybe the truest forebearer to burnouts like Weird Owl are the Meat Puppets. The plinking chimes of “In the Secrecy of Oceans” are similarly wide eyed, and it sports the Kirkwood Bros.-worthy “I’ve lost my feather / I’ve learned how to fly.” The newer band is fortunate to have technology at their disposal akin to top-of-the-line 1972 multi-track, but like the Puppets, there’s no showbiz management reining them in, prepping it for radio. It takes some patience to enter their world and get lost among the crystallizing Saguaros.