We have been waiting ever-so-impatiently for the debut album from Toronto woodland electropop experimenter Zoo Owl, and we’re feeling incredibly fortunate that we also get to premiere it. Without further ado, the magnificent Hollow, which we’re proud to be adding to our Pile of Best Albums today.
When performing live, Zoo Owl (aka Bryan Sutherland) wears goggles that emit beams of light, and fully inhabits an enigmatic avian character. His videos (which he himself directs) further develop this persona, and the video he released last week for “Left Alone” continues the origin story laid out in “Twin Mirror”. But as in awe of all this story and spectacle as we were, there was always the question of how this material would translate on record. Well, Hollow soundly answers that concern. This debut is a powerful musical statement that amply demonstrates that Zoo Owl is not all theatrical smoke and mirrors, lasers and fog machines.
From about a minute into opening track “Twin Mirror” we first descend into his swampy electronic forest. Dark, grimy, electronic, his music seems to maintain a deep affinity with the natural world despite his constant expert use of arpeggiators and rigid drum programming. There are many parallels to be drawn between Zoo Owl and Toronto contemporaries like Doldrums and Phèdre, but he’s clearly staked out his own territory, and he can move between different takes of the genre with ease. “Left Alone” is cool cutting-edge arpeggiated synthpop-noir, “Breakout” is a bubbling chirping rave-up, “Ritual Revival” a Thom Yorke-esque electro-ballad, and “Vantom” is a wonderfully paranoid breakbeat track. Despite these disparate styles, they’re all unified by the vocals, lyrics, and the persona of the Zoo Owl. No easy feat. Hollow is a masterful first release from a remarkably creative new talent on the Canadian electronic music scene. Buy it from Bandcamp.
The release party for Hollow is July 17 at Canton Chili in Toronto, with Sexy Merlin opening. $5 or $10 with buffet.