Awol One & Factor
Say what you want about Xzibit (yo dawg!) but he deserves only respect for his prominent support of the West Coast. Even more so when it’s for such an album as diametrically opposed to his own oeuvre as Owl Hours. He’s the executive producer here and drops a reassuringly offensive verse on “Brains Out,” but his presence shouldn’t distract from Awol One and Factor’s achievement in creating one of the most challenging and provocative records released this year.
As the title suggests, Owl Hours was created mainly at night, and is infused with those moments of uncertainty, introspection, paranoia (and inebriation) that come only when it gets dark. It’s an unsettling world full of contradictions and juxtapositions where tales of regret and recrimination sit next to (almost) celebratory anthems of friendship and empowerment. At the eye of the storm is the walking paradox that is Awol One. He’s at once both “the school bully and the school nerd”, going “up town, trying to get down, downtown, trying to get up”, defined by darkness, yet aware that “darkness reveals the light.”
This schizophrenia is mirrored by Factor’s excellent production, which embraces almost every direction apart from what you might call a ‘standard’ hip-hop sound. He veers from cold, pounding electro on “Official” to the folk-hop of “Back Then,” to the lolloping Hawaiian guitar and organ of “Destination.” It’s the perfect counterpoint to Awol’s deceptively offhand drawl and brings the album back from the brink of alienation that it flirts with on the opening “Glamorous Drink”.
While it successfully sets the tone for the rest of the album, its biting critique of someone intoxicated with alcohol and themselves and its bleak industrial beat really throw the listener in at the deep end. Thankfully you’re pulled up straightaway by the more upbeat “Celebrate,” whose chirpy piano hook lightens the mood without ever losing the slightly seedy, bitter tone that runs through all of Owl Hours. Even “Stand Up” and “Waste The Wine,” the other party tracks, retain a slightly drunk, out of control feel to them.
But this doesn’t detract from their power, if anything it enhances it. Like Atmosphere, Awol spins tales of the seedy underbelly of life that don’t pull any punches. “Waste The Wine” is an ode to friendship, but there’s no place for any sentimental “friends forever” schmaltz here. Instead we’re presented with a slightly more down to earth scene where “my homie’s wasted, he peed his pants.” It’s friendship, warts and all, and underlines Awol’s determination to show life how he sees it, whether you like it or not.
Plenty of people might not, but then they’ll be missing out on the poignant beauty of “Back Then” and the gently uplifting finale, “Sunset Sandwich,” that reminds us that every night, no matter how dark, is always followed by morning.
Owl Hours is a record from a searingly honest and talented lyricist matched with a producer with a gift for creating catchy songs that don’t sound like much I’ve heard in hip-hop before. It might be out of your comfort zone, but that’s the point. If you’re “up for the challenge of going off-balance” set on “Waste The Wine,” then Owl Hours is very much for you. And to be honest, if Xzibit can dig it, so can you.
– Will Georgi