There’s a charming seasonality to OWEL’s catalog. Back in 2013, the New Jersey band’s self-titled debut arrived in the dead of winter with washed-out colors and a song literally warning that “death awaits in the snow.” Their sophomore LP, dear me, was released in the fall of 2016 and is soaked in the fading light and brooding introspection of that season. Paris, which will be released tomorrow, continues that trend, taking up the mantle of spring in all its bright, earnest passion.
(Full disclosure: Paris was co-produced and engineered by gates front-man and my personal friend Kevin Dye.)
There is another aspect of spring, though, that seems thematically relevant to Paris beyond the album’s nearly-pastel cover art. Spring is the season of rebirth, a time to build something new on the very ground where much has been lost, and that feeling, that sense of reconstruction, is interwoven with the fabric of Paris.
Fans of OWEL’s prior releases will not be surprised to learn that Paris features a number of beautiful orchestral swells or that the album prominently utilizes crescendos that reach from delicate whispers to roaring triumphs. What feels different here is how personal these dynamics become. The sense of rebirth that runs so deeply through this album is intimate in nature, pointing towards the painful recovery that follows breakups and firings and failures. It’s the feeling of being reduced to nothing and then building yourself back into something whole and healthy, battling through anger, apathy and forgiveness on the way.
One of the album’s most memorable passages sees “No Parachutes” come down from an extended crescendo only to build back up with a choral vocal as Jay Sakong’s lead line sings, “If we get this right, or if we drown, I’ll see you on the other side.” It’s inspiring and terrifying and brimming with the confidence of the reborn.
But self-repair is not always a smooth process. A few songs later, on “Being Human is Weird,” the listener suddenly finds themselves buffeted by a clipping whir that sounds like being trapped in a strobe light gone haywire as Sakong observes,
“Now everybody’s talking but no one’s saying a damn thing, just taking turns reciting something absurd they heard once.”
That the song’s narrator will later slip into this empty behavior to avoid his own feelings of isolation and loneliness makes the track all the more inviting. There’s nothing more relatable than weakness, nothing more honest than vulnerability. These are hard truths but, with Paris, OWEL sure seems to understand them.
To listen to Paris is to sink into the album’s lush soundscapes and the impeccable musicianship of OWEL, whose members never fail to impress. As a record that, both sonically and lyrically, grapples with the challenges of evolving as a person, of breaking down and building yourself back up, listening to Paris is also strangely comforting, an album-length reassurance that even though being human is weird, spring has only just arrived. There’s still time to get out there and find yourself in the bloom of the season.