4c rue maple, Sutton, QC, Canada
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Thus Owls • Who Would Hold You If The Sky Betrayed Us • full bio
18 october draft
Thus Owls have returned with an expansive, audacious and beautiful new double-album: Who Would Hold You If The Sky Betrayed Us? is a saxophone-studded journey by one of Canada's most daring acts, an explosion of improv, poetry and visionary rock'n'roll that seeks to understand what it means to be—and belong.
Founded in Stockholm, based in Montreal, Thus Owls is the ongoing creative project of Erika and Simon Angell. The duo's fifth album sees them continue their tradition of reinvention, from their early indie records to 2015's synth-laden Black Matter EP and 2018's The Mountain That We Live Upon, which featured an ensemble of four guitarists. Here they turned to long-time collaborator Samuel Joly (drums), but also to a trio of saxophone players: Claire Devlin (tenor), Adam Kinner (tenor) and Jason Sharp (bass sax), each of whom write and perform as independent composers. The goal was not just to feature soloists, or a glossy smear of horns, but to invent a startling, aggressive new musical language—one which reflected the Angells' roots in jazz and improv, and their dream of a vivid, interwoven sound.
The process was long and unconventional, rearranged by the pandemic. Cut off from her Swedish family, Erika had begun writing lyrics that reflected on that distance and its implications, the tension between who one is and how one is perceived. "Who am I?" she asks on "Lover Mother." "What do you see?" Moving to a new country, creating a home there—this is a matter of knitting connections, just as performing for a crowd is about drawing those lines. Could Thus Owls make a music that drew out that sense of active interconnection, the way we compose and recompose ourselves?
The Angells began to meet with their new collaborators, first virtually and later in person, talking not of songs and solos but of identity and belonging. They shared poems and sounds and choreographies and podcasts, from Alice Coltrane and M. NourBese Philip to Alexander Ekman and Carl Jung. Although some of the musicians knew each other well, most were only acquaintances; over five months they shared secrets, tried trust games, played "Exquisite Corpse." "Fragility is a good place to create from," Erika says—and as these discussions unfolded into writing, rehearsals, and eventually recording sessions with Jerusalem In My Heart's Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, the new group tried to carry forward these feelings of vulnerability, curiosity and openness.
The result is 66 minutes of exhilarating, uninhibited music—a double-LP that can be listened to in full or as four sides, three or four tunes in a sequence. "The whole record is like a Thus Owls song," Simon says, unconventional and free. It's all there in its first minute: "Bleeding" opens with Erika's speak-sung poetry, the raying harmonics of Simon's 12-string guitar—tuned randomly, for overtones and drone, as a way of "shaking out" his habits. When the saxophones come in they are somehow menacing and comforting at once; then the track seems to halt, change directions, and recommence. Elsewhere there's the crisscross brass dazzle of "Balconies"; the radiant, artful progress of "I Forgot What I Remembered"; the cacophonous squall of "Perfectly Younger," suffused with aggression and desire.
Throughout it all, Thus Owls have created compositions that can be re-configured: material that extends the moment of invention outward, into new relationships. As they hit the road again, the music of Who Would Hold You If The Sky Betrayed Us? will deliberately change with them, with different live collaborators and lyrics. Every performance allows another transformation: this recording is just the first, the sound of a band in the throws of new powers, inspired by everyone from Pharoah Sanders and Patti Smith to Makaya McCraven, Jyoti and Bowie's Blackstar. "Everything is happening at once, and I am happening with it," Erika Angell sings—her voice like searchlight. "How true can anything become / and how do we know the difference?"
Who Would Hold You If The Sky Betrayed Us? becomes true on ? March 2022.
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