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Low Flying Owls 

Elixir Vitae

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
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The irony of modern-day progressive rock is that the title is usually given to bands that have embraced a retro sound. Where's the progress in that? Sacramento's Low Flying Owls are guilty of being both progressive and retro on their latest LP, Elixir Vitae, but that doesn't mean listeners have anything to complain about.

The Owls swoop right into our consciousness with "Glad to Be Alive" and "Swingin' Sam," two songs that borrow from the Stooges' and Black Sabbath's brand of swaggering, fuzzed-out guitar riffing. Singer/guitarist Jared Southard croons repeated mantras with the flattened and distorted tone of Lou Reed via Julian Casablancas, combined with Jim Morrison's authoritative seriousness. Hence the retro. What makes the Owls progressive, though, is that they let their riffs marinate, often for entire songs, allowing the rhythmic energy to ebb and flow, but changing little in the way of melodic structure. The effects are drone-y and texturally rich.

Listening to the first few tracks, you expect Elixir Vitae to indulge in the previously mentioned riff rock for the entire album. But while this indulgence does resurface at times -- as on "What My Friends Say" and "Mama Said" -- the rest of the record dabbles in a number of surprisingly different tones. "Babies Made" updates Pink Floyd's melancholy psychedelia with whispered monologue samples, recalling Air or even indie sound-as-texture purists Tristeza and the Album Leaf. And then there's "Beaches of Tomorrow" and "Georgie Shot Johnnie," two songs whose acoustic guitar strums, reverb-soaked guitar weeping, and polite vocals could easily be long-lost Beatles or Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie outtakes. It's on these songs that tasteful cello and warm electric pianos offer pleasant relief from the dominant electric guitars. Many of the Owls' moods effortlessly cohabitate on the album's closer, "The Last Day on the Planet," which makes us think there might still be hope for progressive rock doing what it claimed to do in the first place.

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Abigail Clouseau

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