Starless & Bible Black have a lot going for them, but two big things stand out. First, French expat Hélène Gautier is a terrific singer, with a voice that’s sweet, ethereal, precise, and throaty. That may seem like a self-contradictory list, but her delivery of these catchy, elegant melodies is sufficiently complex that all those qualities can coexist in her style; she draws on traditional British folk and 70s singer-songwriter fare in equal measure, and the results sound like neither. Second, her resourceful partners, guitarist Peter Philipson and keyboardist Raz Ullah, provide a rich backdrop for her gorgeous voice, filling the spaces between exquisite guitar arpeggios, spindly riffs, brief and fluid solo passages, and the occasional power chord with analog-synth parts that alternate from spaced-out to warmly gurgling to 70s noodly—growing up in the 70s, Ullah was apparently spellbound by Pink Floyd, Jean Michel Jarre, and the music of Dr. Who, and you can hear it. And none of these elements outweighs any other, so meticulous is the trio’s beautiful blend. The record features a quintet and has drumming on every track—along with plenty of overdubbing—so I’m guessing that Saturday’s performance, the band’s first in Chicago, will be relatively stripped down and gentle.
Titra soon moved on and put O.W.L. behind him—until the day a couple years ago when he got a call from Locust owner Dawson Prater, who’d stumbled across one of those 20 test pressings at a Brown Elephant thrift store on Western. Prater eventually released an O.W.L. album called Of Wondrous Legends in 2008. The music is a bit overdone for my tastes; the gauzy horn and string arrangements split the difference between baroque and Ren fair (there’s even a song called “Renaissance & Rococo”), and the whole production gives off a strong whiff of Middle Earth fantasia. But Titra has a lovely voice and his melodies are gorgeous. I’m particularly fond of the vibes and marimba from Al Keeler, whose contributions suggest that Titra was probably listening to plenty of Tim Buckley at the time—Buckley’s sound owed much to vibist Dave Friedman. I’m waiting for confirmation from Prater, but I’m pretty sure that this is the first O.W.L. performance in nearly four decades.