Basking in the glow of their own radiant reverb, beautiful guitar strings dance with a passionate volley in “Love Her Still,” one of the fourteen songs that comprise White Owl Red’s brilliant new album Existential Frontiers. Coming in at roughly forty six minutes in total length, Existential Frontiers is an easy-listening portal to a surreal world of Americana like none other I’ve listened to this season, and it is in songs like this one and the grizzly “More More More” that we are allowed the most vivid of connections with its evocative subject matter.
If the haunting harmonic swing of “See Through Me” doesn’t send chills down your back, the melodic whistle of “Set Free” is almost certain to. “Union Fight Song” bursts out of the gate like a racehorse at the Kentucky Derby, and while its lyrical content is gritty and a touch rebellious, it isn’t overtly punk rock in stylization. “Hand-Me-Down Girl,” my favorite song from the record, is patiently arranged around its slender string play and emotive lead vocal, much in the way that “Star-Crossed Lover” is built on the back of its gentle, half-whispered melodicism. There’s plenty of personality to these lyrics, and I get the impression that they’re coming straight from the heart of J. Josef McManus, the driving force behind the White Owl Red moniker.
The first time that I heard “Take a Good Look,” I couldn’t decide whether or not it was an alternative country swing tune or a straight-up roots rock jam varnished in vintage folk tonality (think more Neil Young than John Denver). In either case, it’s one of the more textured songs, from an instrumental standpoint, on Existential Frontiers, with the closest runner-up being the boldly sentimental “Wishing You Well.” The title track has a lot of countrified rhythm, but it’s yet another example of White Owl Red’s interesting cocktail of styles and songcraft in action.
“I’m a Saint” has the most rock n’ roll soul of any track here, and next to the brittle “Good Morning Moonshine,” is definitely boasting one of the more physical mixes of any we hear on this record. “See Through Me,” “Everything But Crying” and “Breaking Away” as a trio would have made for a perfect extended play by my own measurement, but I think that they’re all the more engaging in this full-length setting. All of this material would sound awesome live, and if White Owl Red doesn’t pursue a nationwide tour in support of this album, it would be a genuine shame.
Existential Frontiers is the most accessible and endearing LP that White Owl Red has assembled since debuting some years back, and though it’s got a lot of multidimensional elements in its construction, I think that it’s a fine listen for both hardcore followers and newcomers alike. Whether it’s a drive along the California coast, a sunny afternoon hiking in the mountains, or even just a typical Tuesday night where there’s not much else to do other than put on a hot new record and knock back a couple of cold ones, this is a satisfying symphony of Americana that is hard to put down once you’ve picked it up.