As the achingly beautiful strings of the intro to Parliament of Owls‘ debut Crow swelled beneath the singing of birds and a David Attenborough-like voice began to speak, I was stunned into awed silence. Any looming dread about having to review a two-disc album disappeared in one magnificent surge of music and, as commanded by the voiceover, all I could do was “wait and listen for the first songs to begin”.
The calming sway of a wonderful acoustic guitar and its hissing reverberations, and a light and fragile voice whispering gently above on the first track ,’Birds’, solidified my awe.
Yet Parliament of Owls are more than merely gentle, light, fragile, claming, etc. showing a far greater depth, ranging from sparkling acoustic gems like ‘Birds’, to instrumental tracks such as ‘Idea Maintenance’ with its use of scathing strings, to ‘August Sweat’ – an upbeat number that springs along deer-like to its disturbing and comic conclusion that ‘happiness is such an awful disease’.
Most of the songs on Crow are less than two minutes long, but they twist together into a musical story that runs throughout the entire half hour or so of the first disc, into (in the words of their record label Shelsmusic) “a collection of intimate lullabies more like personal journal entries”.
The second disc of this album is a collection of remixes by the band’s “remix master” Cignol. Whilst the unified cohesion of the first disc is broken on the second it remains an impressive reinterpretation of the album. For example ‘Birds’ soars to heights that are unimaginable in the original through the glacial synths and stuttering drum beats Cignol nurtures on his remix.
The magic that Cignol works on these tracks transforms them into brand new pieces in a way that many remixes simply don’t. As much as the first disc is an inseparable journal of songs, so the second disc is an unconnected collection of short stories – each brilliant in their own right, not requiring the others as any sort of support or framework.
Crow is a beautifully crafted album, a fantastic release that everyone should hear.
Words: Robbie Hayward