Things don’t start well. Having an intro that’s part Bill Oddie and part David Attenborough whispering about “the bizarre sounds of nature” as birds tweet in the background doesn’t help. “All we can do is wait and listen for the first songs to begin” hushes the Oddiebeast and we ponder that perhaps Parliament Of Owls composed this entire album from inside their collective arses.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years though it’s not to trust first impressions, despite what other people might tell you. So we put behind us the slightly pretentious opening and put it down to getting off on the wrong foot.
And how glad we are that we didn’t pass judgement there and then because what follows is 15 songs and 28 minutes of wonderfully executed folk pop. Bon Iver might have holed up in a shack and eaten a deer, and he might have some pretty amazing tunes, but Parliament Of Owls have come up with something that is – honestly! – the equal to his For Emma album.
These very sparse songs last just fleeting moments. They flit across your consciousness, depositing nuggets of a tune and then disappear into the ether, leaving you with a feeling of bemusement and on frequent occasions, wonderment.
Take Birds, a song introduced by an excitable twitcher. The simple guitar line is barely picked out, barely audible as it hides behind the gentle vocal line that forces you to concentrate hard to hear it clearly. By rights this should be one of the most boring things ever, but it is instead oddly beautiful, before being scared away by the microphone pop that heralds the introduction of the next track.
The likes of Gelatine are home to exquisite vocal harmonies that are similar to those of Nick Drake or even Fleet Foxes at times. At a little over a minute long there’s no danger of such a track outstaying its welcome. If anything the compact beauty of these grabbed ideas sparkles with a heightened fluorescence. Hateful Wrists possesses a dirtier vibe with a grumbling piano and a thunderous bass drum punctuating the ethereal mist. And yet at its heart is a mournful tune full of na�ve hurt. It aches in a way that stimulates real empathy in the listener.
A band as idiosyncratic as Parliament Of Owls shouldn’t need to resort to cover versions, but nestled at the heart of this album is a simply stunning version of The One I Love. It makes R.E.M. sound like frauds, adding some haunting strings and injecting a strange medieval feel. It shouldn’t work, but it seems to have found a home and a soul in Parliament Of Owls’ interpretation.
If all this sounds like a twee yomp through an English folk nightmare to you, then be assured that Crow isn’t all references to madrigals and the I-Spy book of British Birds. There are numerous points of reference to be found within these songs from the folk pop of Simon and Garfunkel to the slightly spaced out psychedelia of the ’60s West Coast bands (August Sweet), but like the songs themselves these influences are fleeting and hard to grasp.
The second disc of Crow is basically a remix of the original album, but with added glitchy breaks and clever drum beats. At first you may find yourself drawn towards these interpretations ahead of the original album as they’re are more immediate and, crucially, longer, which allows the ideas that were so ephemeral to become more established.
The allure quickly wears off however, and the appeal of the original album soon comes calling. The more time you spend with Crow, the more astounding it becomes. With only 100 physical copies being available this album is unlikely to set any sales records, but there’s little doubt it will become a cult classic in no time at all. A truly great album.