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In January of 2013 I ordered a CD by the band Owel based on a couple of songs I had heard on the internet. Upon receiving the album, I listened to it 3 or 4 times in a row. Needless to say, I really enjoyed and connected with their tunes. Later on in the year I ordered the album on vinyl and received one of the coolest looking records in my collection (props to intheclouds Records, check the link at the bottom of the page).

I find it difficult to describe Owel’s music other than using the word “beautiful”. Somewhere between the late 90’s emo sound of American Football and Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World and the experimental sounds of Sigur Rós and Radiohead, this five-piece band from the New York/New Jersey area has found a wonderfully-unique sound.

Owel were kind enough to take a time out during the holidays and answer some questions for me about their band and their own personal music tastes and collections:

Who is answering these questions and what instrument(s) do you play in Owel?

Jay Sakong: singer and guitarist.
Jane Park: violin, keyboard, vocals
Seamus: guitar, keyboard, vocals
Ryan: drums

Is it blowing your mind to see your band mentioned on these huge tastemaker sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum?

Jane: I used to check Stereogum every day in college, and it was one of my main sources for exploring new bands, so having Owel mentioned there was pretty surreal. Likewise, being mentioned on Pitchfork was really big for us. Moreover, it led to many new listeners, which is always exciting.


Do you have any thoughts on the so-called “emo-revival” that Owel has been linked with lately?
Jay- That phrase “emo” has taken on so many different meanings throughout the years that at first I really didn’t know what to think. I think of bands that I loved (and still do love) and bands that I despised. I always thought “emo” was just a term for music that evoked emotion, but then again what good song doesn’t evoke some emotion? Regardless of what it means to anyone else, I’m just grateful that ears are turning towards us.
 
What artists do you consider to be Owel’s biggest influences? 
Seamus: The beauty of making music with these guys is we all come from different backgrounds allowing us to share ideas and basically learn a lot from each others’ tastes. With me personally, my earliest influence was Brian Wilson’s work with the Beach Boys. The mix of amazing songwriting and ridiculous harmonies got me interested in music right from the age of 8. Since then, anyone from Jesse Lacey from Brand New to Dallas Green, there really are too many to name.

What is your favorite album of all-time? (If you can’t just name one, I’d also love to hear a shortlist of albums that would be candidates.)

Jane: a few of my favorite albums ever would include Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Beach House - Teen Dream
What are some of your very favorite songs of all-time?
Jane: Etta James’ version of Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Radiohead - High And Dry, The White Stripes - We’re Going To Be Friends
Seamus: Radiohead-Fake Plastic Trees, Death Cab for Cutie- TinyVessels, Coldplay-Fix you, The Wonder Years-I Just Want To Sellout My Funeral, Our Last Night-Dreamcatcher, Elvis-Only Fools Rush in, Brand New-At the Bottom, As Tall as Lions-Duermete, Sigur Ros-Hoppipolla, Dallas Green-What Makes a Man

What format do you buy music on the most (CD’s, vinyl, Digital, Cassette)?
Jane: I’m a product of the times. In middle school, cassettes. In high school, CD’s. In college, mp3’s. Now, digital and vinyl. 

How many albums would you estimate are in your collection?

Ryan: A lot. I have so many albums spread out in cassettes,vinyls , cd’s etc…Even when i was young i appreciated different styles of music to expand my drumming knowledge. I feel as a musician you need to have a collection of music to keep yourself inspired and eager to learn new ideas.


Are there any plans for Owel in 2014 as far as touring or new music goes?
Jay: We are always playing out. It’s a huge part of what makes this so fun. The other part is being in the studio, and to be honest, I can’t wait to record our next record.
Jane: As much as we love playing in NY and NJ, we’re excited to be venturing to different states for shows more and more. We’re looking forward to more out-of-state tours in 2014.
Thank you so much to Owel for allowing me to interview them. Please check out this incredible band at these links:
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This is my first attempt at writing a somewhat lengthy year-end roundup. I figured since 2013 was loaded with so many good albums that this would be a good year to jot down some of my immediate thoughts on my favorite albums of the year. So, here we go…

My 25 Favorite albums of 2013:

25. Carrollhood - VIOLENCE.

-A nice three song EP by members and former members of Anberlin, Underoath, and Tallhart. It’s an excellent trio of songs, but “MDSFWL” is a standout. Download the EP for the price of whatever you want to pay at http://carrollhood.bandcamp.com

24. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Whenever, If Ever

- One of the most publicized albums of the “emo revival”. This album is solid all the way through, but the end is where it really shines with the spectacular tracks “Gig Life” and “Getting Sodas”. Bonus points for the mewithoutYou namedrop.

23. St. Lucia - When the Night

-I was bummed to find out that my favorite St. Lucia track, “Before The Dive”, didn’t make the album, but after hearing When the Night it makes sense why it was left off. “Before the Dive” is a bit too dark for the upbeat synth-pop anthems that populate most of this fun album.

22. Washed Out - Paracosm

- An excellent album to listen to when you just want to wind down and relax. I’m not sure Washed Out will ever make another song as good as 2009’s “Feel It All Around”, but “Weightless” tries pretty hard to convince me otherwise.

21. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

-The indie-rock darlings go in a different direction with the help of producer James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame). The tribal-disco feel of this album is certainly interesting and very enjoyable when I’m in the right mood for it.

20. States - Paradigm

-This band had me hooked with their fantastic debut EP, Line ‘em Up, and then they lost me a bit with some of the poppy songs on their first full-length, Room to Run. Paradigm finds a nice balance between the two, but is ultimately missing whatever ingredient it was that kept me going back for more of Line ‘em Up.

19. Misery Signals - Absent Light

-The metalcore masters return with this IndieGoGo-funded screamfest. Absent Light is heavy, yet melodic. It’s complex, yet accessible. Play it loud.

18. The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual

-I was able to witness the live performance of this seasoned emo act this year, and it’s clear why this band has stood the test of time. Complex arrangements, superb musicianship, and emotional vocals and lyrics is a formula to be reckoned with.

17. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

-This was one of the albums that surprised me the most this year. The duo move away from indie-rock and closer to full-fledged pop.This album has so many good hooks and beats that I can’t help but hope the girls continue moving in this direction.

16. Haerts - Hemiplegia EP

-My favorite EP of the year, Hemiplegia has four well-crafted 80’s-influenced pop songs. Nini Fabi turns in one of my favorite vocal performances of the year on this EP, and especially on the incredible “Wings”.

15. Shai Hulud - Reach Beyond the Sun

-The metalcore pioneers bring back their original vocalist and New Found Glory member, Chad Gilbert, for what is my favorite Shai Hulud release in a decade.

14. Still Remains - Ceasing to Breathe

-The band that made one of my favorite metal albums ever, Of Love and Lunacy, comes back from their split-up with a crushing metalcore release. This album has only been out for a few days, so it’s possible that this album would rank higher on this list with time.

13. Jimmy Eat World - Damage

- The band responsible for many of the best emo-pop songs ever made returns with another set of catchy, emotional, sing-alongs. It may not have any of their greatest songs ever on it, but it does have some very good ones.

12. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

-The fact that this album isn’t in my top five just goes to show what a strong year this was for music. I’ve listened to this album quite a bit since its release a few months ago. These catchy, female-fronted electro-pop songs will be stuck in you head for weeks.

11. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

-Overall, this is probably my favorite album by The National. This album has more interesting one-liners than most rap albums have, and the songs are more immediately enjoyable than most of the bands past work.

10. Search the City - Flight

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-I’m not gonna pretend that this is a “great album” in the way that most people think of. It is, however, a great Search the City album. This means fun musicianship, great energy, and undeniably catchy melodies.

9. Living Sacrifice - Ghost Thief

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-I would say this is one of the best albums by the band I consider to be my favorite metal band…and it’s number nine! Wow, what an incredible year for music. If you like great, heavy tunes than you’ve probably already heard this album, right?

8. Owel - Owel

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-This album is what I would imagine Sigur Ros or Radiohead would sound like if American Football was one of their main influences. This album is track after track of beautiful emo songs.

7. Canopy Climbers - Miles

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-The first four tracks on this album rival almost any lead off-clean up hitter spots on 99% of the albums I’ve ever heard. The album gets a little too slow for too long by the end of the album, although the songs themselves are pretty good. Those first four spots sure could score lots of runs, though. Oh yeah, music…

6. Paramore - Paramore

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-This album was the biggest surprise to me this year. I’ve always been a casual Paramore fan, but this album has made me more than that. Catchy, diverse, and exciting. Ain’t it fun?

5. Everything in Slow Motion - Phoenix

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-The solo album from former Hands vocalist Shane Ochsner is a heavy, atmospheric beast of an album. Every lyric is shouted or sung with passion. Every second of music reaches for the sky or digs up graves. There is nothing boring or mundane to be found here.

4. Gold Fields - Black Sun

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-I’m so glad that I happened to be watching MTVU when Gold Fields video for “Treehouse” came on. It sounded like just the kind of synth-pop sound I had been into, but with an awesome tribal feel. I immediately listened to and enjoyed the album on Spotify…then bought the CD…then bought the vinyl.

3. My Epic - Behold

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-This is the album I had been waiting for My Epic to make. It’s nearly perfect. I told a friend that this album is like ‘Rich Mullins lyrics over Deftones music’, but it’s more than that really. There’s all different types of heaviness, beauty, atmospherics, and poetry to be found here…plus downright great songs.

2. Moving Mountains - Moving Mountains

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-One of my favorite bands in the world follow up one of my favorite albums in the world with what appears to be the last album they’ll ever make. As sad as that makes me, I’m glad they went out in such a high note. This album is a solid mix of everything I love about the band. It has beautiful mellow tracks and earth shaking post-hardcore tracks, but they even mix in a little electronic and folk influence on this one. You will be missed MovMou.

1. Shadow Shadow - Riviera

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-Get ready to hear what sounds like a fanboy gushing over his favorite album, because I can’t help but get that way when I talk about this album. Is it too soon to say that an album that came out this year is my favorite of all-time? No, because I’m saying it. This is my favorite album of all-time. A more expansive review will be coming in the near future. Until then, just let the fact that you can’t listen to this album in the US (unless you buy the vinyl) torture you. In short, this is lush, atmospheric, synth-pop. Oh yeah, and don’t forget musical perfection.

My Favorite Songs of 2013:

10. “Stuck” - Canopy Climbers

9. “Tether” - Chvrches

8. “Eastern Leaves” - Moving Mountains

7. “Treehouse” - Gold Fields

6. “Confession” - My Epic

5. “Zion” - My Epic

4. Every Shadow Shadow song that isn’t “Riviera” or “Where The Ocean Is”.

3. “Wings” - Haerts

2. “Riviera” - Shadow Shadow

1. “Where The Ocean Is” - Shadow Shadow

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Blindside - “Sleepwalking”

There was a time in my life when I just wanted to rock the party all night long like it was my last resort. In other words, I really liked nu-metal…yuck. While that musical phase is somewhat regrettable now, it did lead me to some bands (Stavesacre, Project 86, etc.) that I still very much enjoy to this day.

Blindside may be the band from that time in my life that I still get the most enjoyment from (probably because of the strong post-hardcore influence). Similarly, “Sleepwalking” may be the song from that era that I love the most. The verses are heavy and chaotic, the chorus is catchy, and that bridge…wow! When Christian Lindskog shrieks “Goodbye” before launching into an even larger sounding version of the chorus, I can’t help but get caught up in the passion and emotion on display in this song.

From the album Silence (2002). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Silence-Blindside/dp/B00006AGCR/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1385137858&sr=1-1&keywords=blindside+silence

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Jars of Clay - “Tea and Sympathy”

It’s hard for me to not view this song as the soundtrack to a broken heart. I was experiencing heartbreak of different kinds in 1998 when Jars of Clay released Much Afraid. Aside from dealing with typical teenage drama, my parents were getting divorced. I found a little solace in a song that pleaded for someone to not throw away the special thing that they had together. It’s a bit perplexing that I’m still able to gain such enjoyment from a song that accompanied such a difficult time in my life. I guess that just speaks to what an incredible track “Tea and Sympathy” is.

From the album Much Afraid (1998). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Much-Afraid-Jars-Clay/dp/B0026I5HMK/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1385137000&sr=1-1&keywords=jars+of+clay+much+afraid

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Chris Rodriguez - “Sanctuary”

You could remove the subject matter of this song and make it about something trivial, and the music and melody of this song would still make it great. The fact that this song is about something of utmost importance, grace, makes it even more beautiful. It is by God’s grace that we’re saved, after all (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I used to listen to this song when I was dealing with some sort of spiritual warfare, and it would put things in perspective. I sin, but God forgives me. I run and hide, but God finds me. I’m unsure of the reasons things are happening around me, but I’m secure and sanctuaried by God. The fact that I deserve absolutely none of that makes it even more incredible, and this is a great song to help me meditate on the beauty of grace.

From the compilation album Streams (1999). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Streams-Various-artists/dp/B00123FEM8/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1385080973&sr=1-1&keywords=streams+chris+rodriguez

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Lucerin Blue - “This Letter”

"I’m sorry time has hurt you" is a line in this song. Thankfully, that’s not a statement I can make about "This Letter" ten years after it was released.

This is a song about missing a person (possibly more than one person). It’s about being far away from where you really want to be. I’m not gonna try to piece together the lyrics to try to guess a particular situation the writter is referencing. It could be a soldier stationed away from his family. It could be a musician on tour. Whatever the situation, you can feel the pain and longing in both the lyrics and the music.

The song is perfectly beautiful from beginning to end. The guitar parts throughout the song are particularly spectacular. At the 3:30 mark “This Letter” moves from a great song to an amazing display or post-hardcore melancholy.

Take a listen and see that “This Letter” is worth being written about.

From the album Tales of The Knife (2003). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Knife-Lucerin-Blue/dp/B00008H2KT/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1384994901&sr=1-1&keywords=lucerin+blue

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The Sundays - “Wild Horses”

I was raised on Southern Gospel and Country music, as many children who grew up in Baptist churches in Kentucky probably were. Rock music didn’t really catch my attention until I was 13 years old, and classic rock was pretty foreign to me until years later. But before I get to that, let me tell you about Super Bowl XXIV in 1995. It was the Chargers and the 49ers. I have no recollection of anything that happened in the game, nor did I even know that this was the specific Super Bowl that would feature one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard, until the extensive internet search I just did.

For years the vision of a commercial with horses running through the snow would come to mind, and the sound of an ethereal voice singing a beautiful melody with the line “couldn’t drag me away”. Over time I forgot how the song sounded, and I apparently never thought to try to find it on the internet once I had it easily available a few years later. I did happen to remember that the commercial was played during a football game, which it turns out was Super Bowl XXIX.

Fast forward to 2009. I’m listening to a Rolling Stones compilation when I hear a very familiar lyric, “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away”. ‘That’s It!’, I thought. Finally a mystery that I had forgotten existed was nearly solved. Now, I just had to find out who had covered this song. I clicked on a version recorded by a band called The Sundays. I heard the beautiful voice singing the first verse and it sounded promising, then that chorus hit and I knew I had found the song that eluded me for over a decade! There was that incredible voice singing “Wild horses couldn’t drag me away”. It was like I was instantly taken back in time to when I recorded football games on VHS and watched them many times over.

Don’t let the story distract you from the song, though. I like this version by The Sundays a million times more than I like the 1971 Rolling Stones version. Harriet Wheeler’s voice is one of my favorites in all of music, and possibly my very favorite female vocalist. Wheeler’s voice paired with this atmospheric recording feels like the soundtrack to diving in a warm ocean in the sunset, or…Clydesdale horses running through the snow in the mid-90’s. Turns out that was a Budweiser commercial, yuck. Good thing this song is more than good enough to make a straight-edge guy like a beer commercial.

From the album Blind (1992). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Blind-Sundays/dp/B000003TA7/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1384995075&sr=1-1&keywords=the+sundays+blind

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Burlap To Cashmere - “Eileen’s Song”

If I’m not mistaken, I purchased the album Anybody Out There? by Burlap To Cashmere while I was in Washington D.C. on a 10th grade class trip. That would place the first time I heard “Eileen’s Song” in early 1999-ish. I don’t specifically remember what I thought about this song the first time I heard it. All I know that at some point this song began to impact me in a big way.

I used to write quite a bit when I was a young man, and I remember being particularly inspired by “Eileen’s Song”. I remember using the “roses in your eyes” line from this song in one of my own writings. Yes, I was lacking in originality, but the point is that I was so impacted by the lyrics of this song that I literally wished I had written them.

This is more than just a song with inspiring lyrics about two people trying to make it in this crazy world, though. The atmosphere that the keyboard sets at the very beginning of this song is breathtaking. The guitar solo two and a half minutes in is one of my favorite guitar parts in all of music. Honestly, everything about this song is perfect to me.

For more of Eric’s Retired Numbers and a description of what this series is about, click on the Eric’sRetiredNumbers tag at the top of this page.

From the album Anybody Out There? (1998). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Out-There-Burlap-Cashmere/dp/B000V63B36/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1384995131&sr=1-2&keywords=burlap+to+cashmere

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This is the first post in a series that I will be doing about the songs that mean the most to me. To put it in sports terms, this is not the “ring of honor”, this is the “retired numbers” of songs. Most sports franchises retire the numbers worn by players that have played an extremely important part in their organizations, so that no one else can ever wear that jersey with that number again. This is a way to honor that player and to express the importance and impact that the player had. While most teams have had hundreds and thousands of players over the course of the teams history, you can usually count on one or two hands the amount of retired numbers that each team has. Similarly, I have heard more songs than I can ever count, but these are the ones that have mattered most, and deserve the most special recognition that I can give. Although, I will not actually be retiring these songs from my listening, they are songs that are so important to me that I only listen to them when I can give them my full attention. Keep in mind that this is a very subjective thing, and these are not songs that I claim to be the “greatest of all-time”, but the songs are most dear to me, personally.

Five O’clock People - “Sorry”

It was sometime in 1999 and my cousin had just witnessed this band called Five O’clock People perform live at a local bookstore, while I attended a church lock-in with my girlfriend. Had I known that I would’ve been able to witness this incredible song live, and that my relationship with this girl would have lasted a measly three months, I wouldn’t hold any regret for the fact that I never witnessed this song being performed. My cousin probably had no idea what would be sparked in me when he brought me an autographed copy of their CD sampler that he picked up at the show. It featured three songs from their album called The Nothing Venture. Track 2 on that CD was “Sorry”. From the first time I heard this song, I was blown away. The beautful sound of the instruments, the deep melancholy feel, the poetic, yet relatable lyrics. These are all things that excite me in new tunes to this day. I think much of the reason I look for those things in music almost 15 years later is because of this song.

I would like to break down this song, piece by piece, lyric by lyric, but that sort of analyzation just wouldn’t do justice to what is so incredible about it. I recommend going to a quiet place and putting your headphones on. Now, close your eyes and let the beauty of this song wash over you. Will it change the way you see music like it did me? Probably not, because you are not me, and I am not you. However, if you can’t find anything about this song that moves you, well, I’m sorry.

From the album The Nothing Venture (1999). Buy it here http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Venture-Five-OClock-People/dp/B00003JAGE/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1384995255&sr=1-1&keywords=five+o%27clock+people

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