Scowl is a book for small children by Steve Smallman about an owl called Scowl. Scowl was only happy when he was grumpy, perched upon his grumpy branch, screaming ‘Flap off!’ at the other woodland creatures, who tried in vain to cheer him up.
Scowl is also the fifth album by Medway‘s very own Stuart Turner & the Flat Earth Society (STFES).
The album cover adorns stern Victorian wetplate images of each band member, courtesy of the talented and esteemed photographer Rikard Osterlund, that make Peaky Blinders look like The Nolans.
Scowl introduces a much harder, more alt rock than folk edge to the effervescent, ever-changing sound of STFES. The harder gritted sound may have been sparked by Stuart Turner dropping the acoustic guitar for a Gretsch or the departure of multi folk instrumentalist Rob Shepherd, who left the band part-way through recording the album.
But STFES has always been a vehicle for other members to bring songs to the table, and this policy gives the band the ability to change direction or sound as a matter of course, rather than a progression or out of any fad or passing style. A good example of this is the uptempo indie pop overtones of Stoic. A wonderful pop song driven by the unmistakable guitar sound of Bob Collins.
The other stand out track for me is Nothing. The song grew out of an original idea by Shepherd, and is a slow burner that builds into something very special. A song about lost control, lost innocence and lost life. This should remain in the STFES live set for many years to come.
Turner’s distinctive growling blues vocal style is perfectly matched with Rachel Lowrie on tracks When, Crash and Solitary. While David Read of The Claim provides guest vocals on Helen – a song that is surprisingly not a cover version as it couldn’t sound more like The Claim if it tried!
The evolution of the STFES “sound” is completely natural. Water, with its banjo-picking, alt folk acoustic-driven sound reminds me more of previous albums, but sits perfectly well among the 9 great songs that together, make Scowl a great album. For me, the best STFES album so far.
Scowl by Stuart Turner & the Flat Earth Society (STFES) will be released on 10th November on Vacilando 68 records.