Owls of the Swamp is the musical project of Melbourne’s self-described dream-folk troubadour Pete Uhlenbruch, who appears on the front of his second album looking something like Nick Drake might if he was donning Leonard Cohen’s signature black fedora, with a searching gaze turned up towards the sky. The inner sleeve then features a beautifully textured canvas painting of the singer in rich, earthy colours, partly recreated on the disc itself.
I mention these images only because they perfectly capture the blend of organic beauty and transcendent mystery contained on this record’s series of twelve gentle songs.
Uhlenbruch’s music has been compared with the likes of fellow introspective, modern folk artists like Iron & Wine, Bon Iver and, of course, Drake. But while stylistic influences are certainly discernible, it is the underlying sense of a search for meaning that gives this album its coherence. In this, Uhlenbruch manages to cast a wider net of lyrical images than many of his musical peers, informed by a fascination with otherworldly folklore that was also the subject of his début offering ‘Smoky Bay’ in 2007.
Beginning with the melodic finger plucking of minute-long instrumental 43, which evokes summer fields seen through shimmering lens flare, this album is an experience that spans deserts, forests, cities and oceans, always looking for something that often remains “so far away”, as Uhlenbruch sings in the record’s first single. Skywaters is a definite highlight, a touching lament to former love in which Uhlenbruch sings along with guest vocalist Aluka, “did you know that this was the first time / that I ever sat next to the moon / and your glow cast a spell over mine / but you left just an hour too soon”.
The record finishes with a slow building chorus involving numerous guest vocals that provides a fittingly dreamlike close. A slow burner that requires several listens to fully appreciate, it manages to strike the right balance of sadness, melancholy and enigmatic imagery to achieve a well-rounded whole.