Dorky is the New Cool: The Low- Fi High-Fi Sound of Melodious Owl

Jay Orff writes on the high-school band Melodious Owl’s new CD. The Hopkins High denizens make him as spazzy as he wants ta be.

Melodious Owl

“Melodious Owl”
Melodious Owl
self-released 2005

I’m glad to be writing a review in a time when words such as “spazzy” have crept into the lexicon of critical writing, because Melodious Owl are spazzy, and I mean that in a good way.

There’s something about the spoken words at the very beginning of their eponymous CD. The voice isn’t entirely sure of itself, it doesn’t quite believe in itself, it’s trying to sound like someone else. Know that these guys are pretending, but they are imitating what they love. They’re pretending to be a techno band from 1985 and have the advantage of it being twenty years later. They know all the moves, all the sounds, and splash them all over every song with willful abandon. Which has its drawbacks. The songs blur together; there aren’t any standout tracks, but this kind of music has never really been about songwriting craft. There are interesting sounds, fuzz guitar complemented by saxophone, but most of the synth work seems ironic, purposefully Casioesque, like a bunch of pals finding some keyboards in their basement and seeing what they can do with them. And they’ve figured out a couple of things, but the CD doesn’t break any sonic or technological boundaries. Then again, I don’t think revolution is the point of Melodious Owl. I think the point is to have fun.

I imagine there are people who won’t have fun listening to this recording, who’ll be annoyed by its nonstop, high-energy, synthesized agitation. If you didn’t think Napoleon Dynamite was funny, you probably won’t enjoy this CD. If you’re not sing-speaking along to the repeated chorus of “dirty velour” by the end of Dance Fever Revisited (how could it be anything but revisited?), then you are clearly not open to postmodern silliness and should probably find some other dance party to go to. Or some party where there isn’t any dancing.

But before you cast aside this music, you should know that there is no secret code, no context that you must understand to get the jokes; it’s simply about enjoyment, the kind that involves arm-flailing and ass-wiggling. Each track moves along at a million beats per minute. There are no slow numbers, no love songs, well, except that they’re all love songs to the art of spazzing out all over the dance floor.

And like other revisionists such as Futureheads and Franz Ferdinand (to a lesser degree), Melodious Owl is celebrating a sound of the recent past without direct references; it’s about recreating a feeling. These are the godchildren of Information Society with a little Flaming Ohs and Suburbs thrown in. But unlike their predecessors, these guys are not trying to be cool, hip, mysterious. These guys are too busy making weird noises so they can dance some more. They’ve replaced affected alienation and everything-is-stupid indifference with an exuberance that doesn’t care if you think they’re stupid.

Again, they’re not copying anyone in particular, just catching the groove of the moment, making interesting music informed by the 80’s, which, given the wasteland of much of 80’s pop, is an admirable feat in and of itself. And while they collect their blips and bleeps and howls and ticking beats, Melodious Owl are clearly having fun doing what was formerly reserved for private rooms: acting goofy with friends or even by oneself, dancing around the living room like a complete idiot, not self-conscious, absorbed in the music. This is what has climbed onto stage, guys being as spazzy as they want to be. And if you care to join in, it’s a lot of fun.