Owl & Mouse are a London-based quintet fronted by Brisbane singer-songwriter and ukulele player Hannah Botting and featuring sister Jen on harmonies (siblings to Allo Darlin’s Bill Botting, they started out as a duo, named after an early song), in addition to band regulars Tom Wade (bass) Emma Winston (keyboards) and Dan Mayfield (violin). Departures, their debut album, also features contributions from Allo Darlin’ members Michael Collins (percussion) and Paul Rains (guitar).
Exploring themes of travel and adventure and the mix of anxiety and excitement they bring, there’s a pleasing feeling of whimsy, but, given titles like Sick of Love and Worst Kiss, that doesn’t mean there isn’t also a quite melancholic streak behind the sweetness of Botting’s often lovelorn lyrics. Cases in point being the ruminations on family in the rippling Misfits, the brooding Basic Economics with its view of love as a question of supply and demand and the rather lighter musical mood of Canvas Bags where she sings about having to hang on to someone you love or let them go to spread their wings. There’s an optimistic side too, the latter number being counterpointed by the scratchy, uke-strummed Louie where, adopting a short delivery somewhere between Lily Allen and Emmy The Great, she sings about keeping the flame burning even though she’s waved her lover off.
Given the simplicity of the arrangements, and the not entirely great expressive range of a ukulele, there can be a certain sameness to many of the tracks, so it’s a welcome change when Wade lends his growly baritone to Sinking Song, a number about trying to make friends in a new town, and the all too brief title track about airport farewells arrives with a fuller, brass enhanced musical body. A little more of that sort of colour and variation wouldn’t go amiss next time round, but, for now, Departures marks a pleasingly listenable arrival.
Review by: Mike Davies
Out Now via Fika Recordings