Breathe Owl Breathe, Ghost Glacier EP

Yancey Strickler

By Yancey Strickler

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Breathe Owl Breathe sing of folklore and homespun miracles, oral histories left to thaw in the earth's crust until pre-history's giant ice cubes rolled their wet bulk down the North Pole and into Canada, finally settling into extinction in what we now call the Great Lakes. It's from the shores of these bodies that Breathe Owl Breathe come (Ann Arbor, Michigan, to be precise), and it's in the shadows of those hollowed troughs that these eight songs rest. These are songs about being left behind, songs about being dead, songs without geography, songs worth repeating.

Songs about being left behind, songs about being dead, songs without geography, songs worth repeating.

The music is very economical — guitar, cello, drums, piano, other organic sounds — and the vocals float between folk and country, a very earnest mood. It sounds a lot like Smog — singer Micah Middaugh and Bill Callahan have similar voice boxes — and at other times early Lucinda Williams, Victoria Williams and, in the case of "Your Cape," even Loretta Lynn. There's a distinctly — and very specifically — American folk tradition at work here, and I don't get the feeling that Breathe Owl Breathe at all mind their limited scope.

The kinda stuff that drew Alan Lomax and Harry Smith deep into Appalachia and the American South forms the foundation of Breathe Owl Breathe's spare, rustic sound. When singer Micah Middaugh belts, "I've got a toboggan," in the last cut, it could easily pass for a boast, a cataloguing of lower-class luxury the way bluesmen might sing of women and whiskey. Mostly Middaugh and his Colombian co-vocalist/cellist Andréa Moreno-Beals sing about ghosts and winter (it is a descriptive album title), sometimes literally ("Playing Dead," "Toboggan," "Sabertooth Tiger") and sometimes in the context of a relationship ("Your Cape," "Sylvia Plath").

The marriage of their music and lyrics is the sort of chance meeting that becomes a 60th anniversary in a blink. Middaugh, Moreno-Beals and drummer Trevor Hobbs are easy and fluid with one another, enabling their songs to (deceptively) feel more like happy accidents than serious, premeditated songwriting. That's where their charm lies. And that's why we chose them for eMusic Selects. Whether or not you're listening hardly matters: this music has always existed, and always will.