Owlbiter “Stud Farm” (Independent, 2018)

Owlbiter is the moniker adopted by Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Matt Cascella and August 10th saw the release of his debut LP ‘Stud Farm’ which also premiered right here on AUK. Utilising the people around him, namely James Downes, holding down guitar and production duties, Jeff Doyle on keyboards, Jimmy O’Donnell on trombone and Cascella’s fiance, Jen Cordery providing backing vocals, Cascella set out to record a minimalist set of songs, especially in terms of percussion, (which might come as a surprise as he was formerly a drummer) and the result is a lo-fi collection that lets the music speak for itself without the glitz and glamour of a big studio affair.

The record opens with ‘Clap’ which is predominantly an intimate ukulele ballad and immediately introduces the very distinct voice of Cascella, singing in a higher register, bordering on a falsetto which serves as an intro of sorts to the record and segues straight into ‘Dog-Eared’ which starts to layer further instrumentation whilst maintaining the intimate, minimalistic feel of the opener. It soon becomes evident that recording the songs at Cascella’s home has contributed greatly to the overall sound of the record as the album has a certain whimsical, breezy and relaxed tone. Naturally, the production isn’t as crisp as could be found on other home recordings but this adds to the charm of the record and an element of authenticity to what Owlbiter are doing on the release.

Throughout the first half of ‘Stud Farm’ the songs are generally guitar or ukulele-based ballads, with the exception of one of the record’s standout tracks, ‘Roof of the World,’ which utilises the skills of Jeff Doyle on piano. The songs themselves are around the 3 minute mark and following a frantic 51 seconds on the upbeat track and the halfway point of the album ‘Need to be Married,’ they become a lot shorter, and significantly more experimental. ‘Pipsqueak’ is a hushed, blues sounding song with a jarring synth line and the final track ‘Where’s The Decency?‘ borders on instrumental as it experiments with looping finger-picked guitar, and the repetition of the song’s title throughout. Whilst the shorter songs on the second part of the record are interesting to listen to, at times they can feel unfinished and if fleshed out and extended, could have been utilised to their full potential. However, with that said, the snapshot aspect of these tracks adds to the album’s charm and keeps things from becoming stale.

While at times the record could have been a little more streamlined and it feels at times like a collection of ideas as opposed to a fully fledged album, overall, ‘Stud Farm’ is a great debut showing plenty of potential from an artist trying to find their sound and showcases Cascella’s songwriting in its purest form.

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