"an artist with an inbuilt sense of pop sensibility... something different"
Owen Duff: Press
"The timbre of his voice reminds us a little of Joao Gilberto, his melodic structure of Rufus Wainwright, his lyricism worthy of comparisons to the gentlemen singers who inhabited the great rooms, most notably Bobby Short."
London singer-songwriter Owen Duff has either come up with a brilliant ruse to promote his work (which has flown way, way under the radar up until this point) or is making a valid point about the thoroughly confused and confusing way in which we 'consume' music.
In August 2008, Duff set about writing and recording 20 two-minute songs in four weeks (hence the title of his resulting album, 20 Two Minutes 4 Weeks).
A limited number of copies of the album have been hidden in London and other cities around the world, with clues as to their whereabouts posted regularly on the singer's blog. The album is not available through any other means.
Several factors come into play here, most notably the speed of the recording sessions and the unusual distribution process. Like all back to the wall projects there is a certain hit-and-miss feel to the album, which is exacerbated by Duff trying several different musical styles on for size. When he hits the mark (The Race, Codebreaker, In Thrall To Tall Buildings And Sky) he is very, very good, his floaty tenor and cryptic lyrics evoking a sense of mystery that is reminiscent of Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens.
But it is the distribution of Duff's album that really piques the interest of the reviewer, because the way we write about music hasn't changed with the times. A great tag line makes an interesting pitch, and this idea certainly has meat on the bones.
In this day and age of instantly accessible music (legal/illegal downloads, ring tones) the unfortunate result is to devalue the nature of the artist's work. Who would have thought Ray Davies and Prince, two of our great songwriters of the modern era, would have been giving their music away for free with Sunday newspapers? The net result is that too often music does not reach out to the wider audience the artist intended; instead it becomes as disposable as a Sunday newspaper, thrown out with the rubbish on a Monday.
What I love about Duff's project is the air of mystery it restores to the art of listening to music. When was the last time you remember the thrill of discovering something new that hadn't been blasted all over the internet within a few hours? For thousands of others to download, store alongside their 25,000 other tracks, and then forget about.
Despite this welcome sense of mystery there is an unavoidable problem with Duff's project. How long before the album is uploaded to a torrent site for easy access? Digital music, by its very nature, has a permanency that other music formats lack, and with a groundswell of interest in Duff's treasure-hunt ruse it may not be too long before 20 Two Minutes, 4 Weeks is easily available to all.
The flexi-disc springs to mind here as the last great piece of 'pop art'. What was originally intended as a cheap gimmick (lousy sound, trashed after a couple of listens), is now commanding high prices at online auctions. A throwaway piece of plastic now highly valued in a throwaway culture, the irony hits hard.
Maybe Duff should try releasing his next album on flexi-disc? It would certainly serve to make his music a rarer commodity than in its present format.
It could be a little disheartening to be a musician stuck on the pub touring circuit, but not for Owen Duff, who is setting himself the challenge of recording 20 two-minute songs in four weeks and is blogging about it along the way at http://twentytwominutesfourweeks.blogspot.com/.
Instead of releasing the songs online like every other new artist, he pledges to send a CD with the songs to every interested fan who emails him. Next he will concoct a treasure hunt, planting dozens of CDs, each containing one track, around London at destinations relevant to each song (libraries, for example). He might even pop clues onto the CDs so the most dedicated can set out to find all 20, "the idea being that the locations will add up to mean something". It all sounds a bit mysterious, but there's nothing wrong with that if it's a trail to some good tunes. Luckily his theatrical tracks more than live up to interesting idea – see www.myspace.com/owenduff.
Electric instruments are not required for a musician to create a sense of drive and urgency, as proven ably by this unsigned Briton, who prefers in fact whenever possible to play an actual piano rather than a keyboard. Although basically an unadorned piano and guitar piece (enhanced with thoughtful sound-touches along the way, however), "Act of War" shimmers with both rhythmic and melodic exuberance, underscored by a refreshing dollop of finesse. It's common for solo performers on the acoustic guitar to go explosive rhythmically, pounding more than strumming in an effort to prove their--I don't know: sincerity, musical prowess, emotional depth, who knows. Duff gives us rhythmic depth without pounding, and greatly enhances his offering here with a fetching, pliable melody line, using his delicate, Sufjan-like tenor with unexpected dexterity and gusto. "Act of War" is the opening track from Duff's seven-song debut EP, called A Tunnel, Closing In, which he released last year. The MP3 is available via his web site.
London singer-songwriter Owen Duff transcends any boring image you might have about some dude plucking his guitar in a coffee shop. He's not self-indulgent and he's not repeating the same thing over again. Since the UK has been going through an indie rock renaissance, some powerful new voices have been bubbling to the top, and Duff is one of them. He knows his shit, as he's been playing piano since the age of 4, knows some cello and plays the drums. It's this confidence and skill which drives his music and comes forth on A Tunnel, Closing In, which is his debut EP.
Next up is Owen Duff. His song is a different thing altogether. It's a pile of clothes in the corner of your bedroom that you haven't touched since you were left alone. It's a voice that pushes the furniture around the room, trying to remember how it used to be. It's a jumble of softness, soft piano that drives the song as much as the soft drums, and guitar and vocals, every one of them in a rush, not knowing where they're going. It's very very good.
UK song writer Owen Duff is an artist that can pleasantly brighten up a Sunday morning, despite the fact he is singing about the scars of love lost and pain. His new EP - A Tunnel, Closing In - is a seven-song DIY release that unlocks the sounds of an artist with the potential to be featured in soundtracks and pop up on mixes for years to come. His songs are arranged well, and he has the ability to craft a hook, he just needs the time and experience to make the jump and form his sound.
Using instrumentation not uncommon to the better work of Badly Drawn Boy, Act of War dances around your room. Starting with only a piano, Duff adds guitar, bass, xylophone and percussion (the subtle tambourine is a nice touch) to compliment his stacatto delivery. The after affects of a fight is not new territory for a solo artist, but the sounds he uses are refreshing. It's the easy standout track of the EP, because it seems so natural. The gentle rhythm floats, unlike some of the slower tracks on the EP - and that really pushes the song along. This song is the type of song that make an artist known.
The EP slows down after the first song, as the piano driven ballad This Song is a marked contrast (where the harmonies and melody make it seem a bit musical theatre), but the EP regains steam with Any Captain Worth His Due. The bass line moves and the piano tempo fits his voice nicely. Duff uses a bit more soulful approach and it's a style he would do well to employ for his future releases. His falsetto is showcased on the track, and he hits the notes so easily, you can't help but want more.
On Turbine, he adds some electronics to play the role of the backing band and swirling piano and strings try to defy the metronome beat. Vocally, he almost hits an Elliott Smith sound, but the instrumentation help him from sounding like he is trying to mimic the success of the fallen idol. To the Bay is really Duff's first sparse arrangement, and it works nicely after the weight of the middle three-songs. It feels more emotional and leads into the piano tinker of Sepulchre, which is my second favorite on the EP. Skeptics again could go the route of musical theatre, but the piano bar feel of the song makes me appreciate how easily Duff opens himself up.
For a self-produced EP, Duff delivers some ambitious songs. Most deliver (especially when he moves from a walk to a jog in pace), a few fall short, but you never question his talent. I think Duff will be a musician we will hear from again... and again. I just hope he has the patience and drive to stick with it.
Are you happy to be in despair? Glad it’s Halloween? Owen Duff certainly is. Glockenspiels and Pianos make Owen so much more sure of himself. In fact he never doubts himself anymore. “Act of Wars” hit Belle & Sebestian melodies with a few less jabs to your solar plexus. Owen Duff floats so freely, he’s more finely filtered, but still sounds like he has an edge, a reason, and a compass in his back pocket that can direct you to all the best places.
I came across this "http://www.myspace.com/owenduff" man yesterday. Not literally, but I became aware of him (through this "http://nothingbutgreenlights.net/" very good blog).
And I think it's fair to say that I was pretty much blown away by his stand out track Act of War (on his myspace. Go listen. Now.), so much so that I immediately sent it to about 5 of my friends.
Cue Rosie the Music Nazi "LISTEN TO THIS SONG NOW ITS AMAZING".
The point is. When they did listen (out of fear probably), they agree that I was in fact, justified with my proclamations.
Now, the above music blog where I read of Mr Duff, as i said before is really very good, HOWEVER. The initial description began alone the lines of "Are you happy to be in despair? Owen Duff is". Hold on one minute there love. It's not that depressing. Frankly listening to it made me quite happy and most defiantly made me smile - as pretty music is prone to doing.
AND THEN, it goes on to describe it as "Belle & Sebastian melodies with a few less jabs to your solar plexus". Now this is what caught my eye, being a slightly huge B&S fan. I though "ooo that sounds like my cup of tea". And it was, but really, more in a violin-less Seth Lakeman way than softcore B&S. Maybe I'm being pedantic, maybe he does have a point in that it's a bit jangly, a (tiny) bit twee with pretty male vocals(Stuart Murdoch, I love you). In short, it's good indie folk/pop. Which B&S is.
Maybe I'm just deaf.
Regardless of who it sounds like. It really is a beautiful song. And frankly, on a winter-is-approaching-and-its-looking-a-bit-grey day like today, I find it hard to think of a better way to spend 3 and a half minutes than listening to this song. Definitely better than crack.
Listening with your eyes shut is optional, but recommended.