I posted my review of If You Ever See An Owl from The Terrible Twos nearly a year ago. I've had a long time to think about the record, and given that time, I haven't changed my opinion one bit -- it's a fabulous record, a hoot (pun intended) for kids and adults alike. It's getting its long-awaited national release on Vagrant/Poquito Records next week so I thought this was a good time to reprint (and update) my review.
The Terrible Twos are a side project once removed. Singer-songwriter Matt Pryor, of the emo band the Get Up Kids, formed the New Amsterdams as a side project with a more alt-country sound. With The Terrible Twos (the New Amsterdams to a man), Pryor has shifted his subject matter back maybe 15 years, targeting the young nieces and nephews of the New Amsterdams fans.
And with If You Ever See An Owl, Pryor and his band have crafted an album that will entertain those nieces and nephews along with their parents and aunts and uncles. Melodically, it's reminiscent of alt-country/Americana-pop artists like the Old 97s, Rhett Miller, and early Ryan Adams, with some Death Cab for Cutie and hints of Wilco thrown in for good measure. (Obviously, it's most like the New Amsterdams themselves.) Acoustic rock of tempos both fast and slow, melodies wrapping their way around your brain. The uptempo "When I Get To Eleven," about a boy's acceptance of growing older, makes counting to 11 a lot more fun than it has any right to be. The love song to a little girl named "Vivian" is worthy of lovesick Miller or Adams. And "A Rake, A Broom, A Mop, A Shovel," just like They Might Be Giants' "Violin" turns a very angular song into something enjoyable.
Lyrically, the 32-minute album covers ground familiar to many kindergarteners -- math, burping and being polite, the problems of a birthday too close to Christmas ("Caroline, don't worry about birthday time / Don't think that on 22 / There's none for you / It's just not true" on the shiny "Caroline"). It's unclear if Barney was the inspiration for "We Can All Get Along With Dinosaurs," but a purple dinosaur stars in a treacle-free song about tolerance. Elsewhere the lyrics target the parents as much as the kids (the disappearing baby of "The Little Houdini," the kid in the driving "Pizza and Chocolate Milk" who says "Don't try to force me to eat vegetables I hate / You may think I'm kidding / That I won't win / If I keep screaming you'll cave in.") But throughout the album there runs a feeling of love and affection for the subject matter (and kids who serve as the inspiration) that distinguishes the album from many others.
Kids aged 4 through 10 are most likely to enjoy the subject matter and the occasionally slow-paced song. The Terrible Twos' e-card lets you listen to "Ladybug," "When I Get To Eleven," and "We Can All Get Along With Dinosaurs," while their Myspace page has "Ladybug" and three more songs. (Oh, and you can listen to samples of all the songs here.)
Due to unspecified release issues, the album was for a long time only available at New Amsterdams shows. I can only think of Wilco's troubles in getting their terrific album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot released after getting dropped by their own label. It took a great deal of effort before the album saw the light of day and attracted great praise, perhaps more than it otherwise would have. If You Ever See An Owl deserves not only a release but lots of fanfare to accompany that release, because this is an album that's going to make lots of kids and parents very happy. Now that it has the national release it richly deserves, let the happiness commence. Highly recommended.