eagleowl – This Silent Year

eagleowl This is an impossible album for me to review objectively for a few reasons. Firstly, Rob St. John, who is signed to Song, by Toad Records is in the band, which doesn’t help. But also, having known these guys since I very first became involved with the local music scene here in Edinburgh, the band are good friends of mine now and so objectively evaluating their music is basically impossible.

Having said that, for a lot of their fans it will be the same way. We’ve been waiting for this album for over five years now, longer depending on how early in their development you first started going to see the band, and by the time you reach that level of tortured anticipation you can’t really hear anything without the interference of years worth of expectations and imaginings. It’s like seeing the movie version of a beloved book you’ve been reading and re-reading ever since your childhood.

That was kind of my response on first listen, as well: a sort of flat “Oh, right. Okay.” It wasn’t like it wasn’t what I had expected, because it was, it was more that after all this time it sounded exactly like an eagleowl album, rather than the massive flood of cathartic relief I felt that I needed. To give you some idea of what I’m hinting at, certain members of the band have been in the pub pretty much constantly since the release date – that sort of sense of relief! As a mere punter, however, I just had a record to listen to, not a euphoric sense of the final culmination of six or seven years of work.

Mind you, the time its taken me to get into the album sort of mirrors how I got into the band in the first place. Compared to their Edinburgh contemporaries, with Meursault and Broken Records it was instantaneous, with Withered Hand it was a delayed-but-sudden realisation, whereas with eagleowl the progression from ‘they’re pretty good’ to ‘fuck me this is awesome’ was slow and steady and took a good year or so.

On my first listens to This Silent Year I couldn’t help but struggle with the feeling of tension in it. Working on the album for this long seems to have smoothed out a little of the looseness and the ragged edges of the live show, and that is subtly but definitely to the detriment of the record, I think it’s fair to say.

Having said that, whilst that seemed significant on the first few listens, it has seemed less and less so as time goes on. The band don’t exactly vary things sharply, but this is a really well-constructed album with a proper emotional trajectory, and that means I have gone back to listen to it again and again since release. A little like when I first started going to see the band play, this has given me the time to let the inherent tension and tightly repressed emotional expression in the songs seep in slowly, so that the release I was expecting on listening to the album doesn’t come from the album as whole, but from allowing the album to deliver it when it’s ready. Until then, you just have to put up with more agonising and seemingly interminable anticipation.

The first little uncoiling comes from the second song, eagleowl vs. Woodpigeon, when the perpetual tease of Forgetting loosens up into something more expansive and lush. Even so, the true moment of catharsis doesn’t come until about five or six minutes from the end of the album. Here, all the gorgeous harmonies, rich, deep string arrangements and slow, clenched drumming cut loose into a massive crescendo which finally, finally delivers the euphoria I’d been expecting when I first listened to the album. And then there is five minutes of massive, krauty, messy cacophony, before it all burns off and the album closes with the whispered gentleness of Laughter.

So yes, they made us wait seven years for the bloody album, and even then they made us hang on for another bloody forty minutes before they finally give us that ‘fuck yeah’ air-punching moment we’ve already been made to wait so long for. It’s about the most malicious case of musical blue-balls I’ve ever seen. But umm, at least they deliver in the end.

Band website – Buy on vinyl or CD from Fence Records

eagleowl – Laughter (Toad Session) from Song, by Toad on Vimeo.