Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Missing Wales: Mechanical Owl's Snowdonia EP

I'm not sure how I first stumbled across Mechanical Owl - it may have been an e-newsletter of some sort, but all that really matters is that something led me to Mechanical Owl's slightly off-kilter folk-electro-rock and it was like stumbling through the trees in Snowdonia National Park and discovering a hidden waterfall in the mountainside. Mechanical Owl is the solo project of Mike Payne, who recently moved back from Leeds to his hometown of Mold in Northern Wales, and who also participates in the bands Mrs. Dice Feet and Crayon. Payne's self-produced, self-distributed six-track Snowdonia EP is a lovely combination of the pastoral and the technological as electronic buzzes and ambience bolster plucked guitar strings. And Payne manages to weave music that captures and distills the magic and majesty of the Welsh landscape, often sounding like The Radio Dept. at their wispiest.

The first track of the EP, Brittle II, begins with an insistent guitar riff and then Payne's dreamy vocals kick off with evocative lyrics like "Rain rivers flow through your kitchen cupboard." Title track, Snowdonia, uses with the sounds of plucked strings, somehow sounding like Asian influences while still maintaining a driving rock melody. If I close my eyes, I can see the Welsh countryside in its hyperreal green glory. Row Your Boat spins around like dust in a sunbeam, sounding like an Air song, and it's my favourite track off the EP. Somehow, with its lackadaisical three-four rhythm, it also reminds me of the hypnotism of Heaven is Inside You by I Monster. Make It Last is a more rock-propelled tune with thrumming guitars and smashed cymbals, and the refrains of "ooh la la's" makes it all that more anthemic. Our Loss Their Gain takes light organ strains and skipping drums and Payne's vocals can get unwieldy in a Frightened Rabbit sort of way, emulating the cascade and spray of Welsh waterfalls between the misty hills. Gravel Grain is a slower affair with gentle electronic pulses, and Payne's plaintive plea of "I hope that it does not start to rain again" melds with the music into a hovering fluidity like mist hanging in the air. There is also a bonus track, which is a reprise of Make It Last, replacing rock bombast with thicker, slower sounds.

If you like what you hear as much as I do, you can purchase the Snowdonia EP at Mechanical Owl's MySpace. And if you live in the UK, Mechanical Owl is playing a few dates this summer, including ones in Manchester, Leeds and at the Good Times Festival in Wrexham. Even though I'm probably not technically allowed to feel hiraeth, the homesickness specific to the Welsh, the way Mechanical Owl makes me miss Wales feels pretty close. However, at the same time, the Snowdonia EP is like stretching the vista of Welsh mountains and valleys through my mind from headphone to headphone.

Mechanical Owl's MySpace:

Snowdonia - Mechanical Owl

Row Your Boat - Mechanical Owl