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, turning to longtime collaborator Samuel Joly (drums), but also to a trio of saxophone players/composers: Claire Devlin (tenor), Adam Kinner (tenor) and Jason Sharp (bass sax). The aim was not just to feature a glossy smear of horns, but to invent a startling musical language—one which reflected the Angells’ roots in jazz and improv, and their dream of a vivid, interwoven sound.
Cut off from her Swedish family, Erika had begun writing lyrics that reflected on that distance and its implications—moving to a new country, creating a home, negotiating the way a newcomer is perceived. There were parallels to be found in the act of live performance: could Thus Owls make a music that drew out a sense of active interconnection, the way we compose and recompose ourselves?
Although some of the collaborators knew each other well, most were only acquaintances. “Fragility is a good place to create from,” Erika says—and five months of discussions and art-shares and trust exercises gave way writing, rehearsals, and eventually studio sessions run by Jerusalem In My Heart’s Radwan Ghazi Moumneh. The recordings were imbued with those feelings of vulnerability and openness, creating 66 minutes of exhilarating, uninhibited music—a double-LP that can be listened to in full or as four distinct sides, inspired as much by Pharoah Sanders and Makaya McCraven as by Jyoti, Patti Smith and Bowie’s Blackstar. “The whole record is like a Thus Owls song,” Simon says, unconventional and free, right from the 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.
Each of these compositions is intended to be re-configured. As Thus Owls 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 for a further transformation: this recording is just the first. “Everything is happening at once,” Erika Angell sings, “and I am happening with it.”