Detroit is likely to retain its title as the Motor City for a good many more years, but music has been a vital moving part in the city’s engine for most of the last 50, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. The stylistic range in Detroit that was once defined by the distance between Motown and The Stooges has become less extreme over time but, as always, there are fascinating examples of the scene’s diversity and health. A potent case in point is Conspiracy of Owls, a band with a name that screams Emo (it’s actually the title of a track from Robert Pollard’s Fiction Man album) but whose musical output couldn’t be more unexpected.
Fronted by Bobby Harlow, lead vocalist for The Go, the Detroit Garage Rock outfit that counted Jack White as a guitarist before his ascendance, Conspiracy of Owls dabbles in sounds befitting Detroit’s rich and varied history on its debut album, Ancient Robots. Incorporating everything from Space Rock atmospherics and ’60s bubblegum Pop sweetness to ’70s lysergic Rock swirl, Dub beat madness and Baroque Pop ambition, COO shimmers and sighs like an impossible focus group made up of the Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Spiritualized, Kula Shaker and Nada Surf trying to come up with a committee song that will faithfully represent every decade since the British Invasion.With an astonishing passion and precision, Conspiracy of Owls accomplishes that and so much more on Ancient Robots; the album’s title cut sounds like a gorgeous Pop collaboration between Roy Wood and Brian Wilson, detailing the melancholy lives of the mechanized human drones that built and maintained Detroit until it fell into corporate disrepair and economic ruin.
It’s a lofty musical and lyrical premise, but Conspiracy of Owls nails it with unerring accuracy and a beautiful Pop veneer, a simultaneous glance back at Detroit’s musical past and an exciting vision of its future.
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