Deaf Center are two dudes from Oslo who play dark ambient music using piano and cello. Owl Splinters, their sophomore release, very much continues to mine the rich, unpleasant nethers of ambient music through slight, discordant perversions of both their instruments. If you thought Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath 1972 was bleak, you ain’t heard nothing until you’ve heard a cello wretch inconsolably on the aptly titled “Animal Sacrifices”. Owl Splinters is a creepy, plodding piece of music. One of its main appeals is its ability to scare you silly in just the right context.
However, without that context – whether it be under the covers or in front of a computer screen in the wee hours of the night – Owl Splinters can wear on you. Much like Max Richter’s recent Infra, these are arrangements that meander and oscillate, building upon themselves with the very quality of their existence. However, the tension that Max Richter built up on his album was disseminated frustratingly and excellently through the use of static and white noise. Deaf Center simply let their textures run wild on Owl Splinters, until, inevitably, they become stale.
This does not bode well for the group when it is clear that their strength lies in short bursts of melancholy. “Time Spent” glides on an ominous piano line, made all the more affecting by the barely audible bass that creeps below it. It’s a well-executed concept, perfect for soundtracking a David Lynch or Darren Oronofsky film, even though it lasts just over two minutes. “Fiction Dawn” similarly places a piano line in a haunting void, and it too gets its point across at just over two and a half minutes.
In contrast, the majority of Owl Splinters is dedicated to massive ambient drones. I know it sounds silly to criticize a dark ambient album for indulging in such, but there is a point where atmosphere gets in its own way. “The Day I Would Have Lived” introduces an interesting concept with a more animated bass and some lingering studio imperfections, but it is far too long to be appreciated by the end of its nagging ten minutes. The eight minute “Close Forever Watching” and six minute “New Beginning (Tidal Darkness)” are similarly overlong and boring, although each has its own rewarding qualities. This key flaw keeps Owl Splinters from being the truly creepy piece of music its ideas attempt to convey. If only the group took more credence from brevity. That way, when those long moments come, they can envelop your sense of time so you won’t ever feel the need to check your watch.