The debut album by London-based quintet Owl & Mouse is sweet and minimal indiepop with memorable tunes and a soupçon of melancholy that fixes them firmly in the memory. The songs by Australian Hannah Botting (sister of Bill Botting of Allo Darlin’) are big on emotions but light in arrangements.
We’re mostly over the ukulele as a lead instrument now, but ‘Misfits’ sounds like a plaintive Herman Dune, with its shuffling beat and idiosyncratic whistling, while the uke/voice mix on ‘Rapunzel’ has a headswimming, lovelorn effect. ‘Worst Kiss’ is another minimal uke tune but shifts its focus as the song progresses and turns into a wondrous duet with Tom Wade, accompanied by fluttering violin sighing softly in the background.
‘Sinking Song’, which lyrically sounds like a cross-dressing confessional but, officially, is about making friends in a new town, is sung by Tom in a sweet low groan. It says a lot for Hannah Botting as songwriter that she showcases a bandmate so heavily in one of her best songs. His voice adds some grit to Hannah’s more wistful tones and, generally, when these understated songs add just one or two elements of additional texture or colour, that’s where they shine brightest.
If you’re looking for pure indiepop, the infectious title track is uptempo trumpet-adorned janglepop but it’s ‘Keep Your Eyes Wide Open’ that breaks the mould; the opening track is like nothing else on the record but its electronic midnight tones of aching and desire shows a different side of the band that they should pursue.
Full of personal anecdotes that become general truisms in the telling, the 11 songs of Departures are sweet and poignant and reach out to the listener in the same way as, say, Camera Obscura; the sense of the excitement of travel and discovery combined with feelings of displacement and identity has an universality that marks out Departures as the impressive arrival of worthy new talent.