A proper library of books takes years to accumulate and create. Anyone can buy a hundred or so paperbacks and put them on a shelf, but for it to represent the collector/reader, it takes time, book after book being added after the pages have been read through. An avid reader may well look upon a shelf still to be filled and wonder what will take up that space: the full back catalogue of Dostoevsky?; a series of textbooks on a mechanical engineering? It can often be hard to tell what will end up taking our fancy and interest, but once the shelf has been completed, it can be possible to scan the spines of the books and recall life over the time they were bought, read, and then put away for another day. Materialism can be an effective visual representation of a life lived.
The bookcases on the cover to eagelowl’s debut album this silent year are ambiguous in there stillness. The bottom shelves are near enough empty, implying that that part of the library owner’s life has not yet been lived. Or, going by the cardboard box in the bottom right of the picture, it could be a case that it’s all getting packed away to be moved elsewhere, if not being in the process of being rebuilt. If the music on this silent year were to be matched to one of those scenarios then it might fit best with the first; the album, though a long time coming (to give some context: when asked on Twitter when there album was due, they replied “About three years ago”), is a slow, languid one that sounds like it’s missing a chunk of life.
To say that eagleowl are missing something isn’t really valid though, especially since the six-piece Edinburgh band have insisted on low-key, often minimally orchestrated sounds over their five years or so together. this silent year is actually pretty beefed up for a good chunk of its playtime, if not mainly due to the twelve minute cathartic build and release of “Too Late In The Day” which wallows about for the first half before crashing symbols and fuzzy guitars take it on a Mogwai-esque route home. The only other fuller sounding affair is the funeral march of “Eagleowl Vs Woodpigeon” but the other tracks do utilize a lot of the same features but spread them out carefully over four or five minutes. “Not Over,” for example, swells carefully with what sounds like a welcome touch of accordion after a prolonged midsection of the band singing, “Say something to me,” where, ironically, I find myself wishing there was a clearer message on display.
Self-described as a “lethargic pop band,” eagleowl do fit the bill pretty well, channelling that folk-rooted melancholia that seems to be increasingly present and popular in Edinburgh, if not across the central Scottish music scene. There are cues from Aidan Moffat, Meursault, and even the Twilight Sad in moments (and also Northern Ireland’s Spring Cities on opening “Forgotten” which recalls the first track of Stephen West’s debut album), but eagleowl do seem intent on carrying on down the slow moving path, creating music that sounds like it has been accumulating dust on the shelf for years. Years back when I saw them opening for Bowerbirds, the audience almost instinctively sat down in the cramped venue; their music might not always indent your memory bank, but it seems fitting to just let their music carry you to the next point in life.
There are moments of lightness on this silent year: it’s a shame the band don’t try experimenting more with the colourful staccato strings on the brief instrumental “Soft Process” while the lyrical hook of “It’s So Funny” (“It’s so funny/How we don’t fuck anymore”- which surely must be a cheeky play on the chorus to Cliff Richard’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore”) does raise a smirk, if not just one that masks the sadness. These are books the band wouldn’t do harm to take off the bookshelf again, but for the most part, though half a decade into their career, eagleowl sound like they’re still accumulating their own library.