Album Review: The Hazelman Brothers ‘Eyesight Like An Owl’

Holy three-part harmonies, batman! The Hazelman Brothers are Chris, Mick, and Stu from Melbourne, and ‘Eyesight Like An Owl’ is their debut album, full of complex multi-part guitar layering, gentle folk melodies, and tons of gorgeous harmonies. Whilst the album doesn’t really deviate too far from this formula, when you do something this well there’s no reason to do anything else. It’s a melodious and at times very moving and personal record that will pull you in and won’t let go until the last gently finger-picked guitar note. 

Opening number I Put You In A Song immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album. It is a rich but yet unmistakably fragile song that initially appears somewhat minimalist before breaking into those stunning vocal harmonies that will become a mainstay for the remainder of the album. Whilst the first half of the album is far from weak, The Hazelman Brothers are at their strongest when they use their music to tell a story, often in a very direct way, and this really comes to the fore in the second half of the record.

8 Out Of 10, for example, is a very personal, slightly tongue-in-cheek song that tells the story of meeting a stranger while travelling overseas, and then writing a song about her, which she gives… 8 out of 10. It is an incredibly endearing song, executed with masterful subtlety and grace. Easily my favourite song on ‘Eyesight Like An Owl’ is Milk, which is one of the most instantly enchanting acoustic songs I’ve heard in a long time. It deals with the incredibly confronting experience of witnessing poverty in Cambodia as a tourist: “I sat down on a plastic chair, at a plastic table, I felt like I was almost able to eat like those around me. But I knew that couldn’t be further from the truth, but more worthwhile than drinking at a booth with a damn fool I couldn’t handle anymore. Then a man rolled by with his legs blown off, sitting in a cart with his hands in the dust, and reminding me, reminding me to remember where I came from”.

That’s simply stunning songwriting. The song reaches a mesmerising climax with the introduction of a second guitar and increasingly complex vocal harmonies, but by this point you’re so caught up in the story of the song that you couldn’t care less about the individual elements making it up. Meanwhile the more lighthearted Doomsday tells the story of a doorknocking Mormon, and Beach Train deals with a devastating conversation awkwardly overheard on a train: “You sat down next to me, on the beach train. You were facing your friend, and the words that came from your mouth sounded strange in such a place. You casually mentioned your friend died about an hour ago. I don’t feel anything, you said”. I have no idea whether these songs are based on true events, but the songwriting is so vivid and resonates so strongly that I can only imagine they are.

‘Eyesight Like An Owl’ is an intensely personal and overwhelmingly endearing release that envelopes your ears with gorgeous harmonies, finger-picked guitar, and, above all else, true storytelling the likes of which is seen far too rarely in modern music. It displays a maturity in songwriting rarely seen in a debut record, and carries at all times the sense of familiarity and intimacy associated with seeing an artist play an acoustic set in a dingy but comfortable coffeeshop surrounded by only a handful of people.

I give it 8 out of 10.

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