For the uninitiated, Olivia Jean is a Detroit born multi-instrumentalist now residing in Nashville that came on to our collective radars in 2009 when she was involved as the guitarist / vocalist for The Black Belles; an outfit known as much for their gothic appearances as their stylistic musical output. The general perception of that band is that it was “put together by Jack White” before being released on Third Man Records. In hindsight, that broad oversimplification works in disservice to the music. Mr. White may have been instrumental in executing on the project but the Wikipedia research says Olivia Jean had demos before others involvement.
This piece isn’t about The Black Belles but it’s important to keep in mind that the malformed origin story doesn’t give credit where credit is due. Olivia Jean recently released her second full-length album under her own name and there’s no reason for trepidation or hesitation that it’s not worth your time. In fact, the fourteen songs contained within Night Owl are bound to surprise you.
Watch the official video for the title track and you’ll be immediately immersed in brightness – both from the bold primary colors and the lead guitar line. It’s not without it’s gothic tendencies (the sparse set decorations look inspired by a macabre Wes Anderson and there is a Grim Reaper) but it’s a signal that Jean is open to a more diverse set of sounds.
That brightness is not the only surprise-in-waiting on the full-length. The cover of “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” is an absolutely blazing take on the Bollywood surf rock classic, “Tsunami Sue” ends the record with a surprisingly floaty guitar excursion and “Perfume” fuses together moments of big riff rock with gorgeously layered indie-pop. If that weren’t enough, “The Hunt” and “Siren Call” serve as phenomenal examples of Jean subverting expectations within the framework of the genre.
This is not to say that the album is all over the place or lacking cohesion, most of the record stems from 50’s Garage Rock inspiration with solid, enjoyable execution. Jean’s guitar work is stellar on every track, full stop. It’s the moments when Jean veers off the beaten path that shine the brightest and, fortunately, the album is full of them.