It's been three years now since Spin magazine named the once-upon-a-time Denton residents in The Riverboat Gamblers to its list of the 25 bands to see live "right now," but still, the band's penchant for raucous showmanship and borderline out-of-control performances remain its calling card. That hardly means the band's recorded output should be discounted, though.
Three years removed from 2006's To the Confusion of Our Enemies, the Gamblers' last studio release, Underneath the Owl finds the band in a somewhat poppier mindset—or at least a place where the band has no problem emphasizing the "pop" portion of its "pop-punk" sound. As such, it's Owl's insanely catchy hooks that define the band's current sound. Lead single "A Choppy, Yet Sincere Apology" showcases this quite well, as frontman Mike Wiebe apologizes to a disappointed partner at the top of his suddenly impressive vocal range. Elsewhere, on cuts like the high-energy leadoff track "DissDissDissKissKissKiss" and the Clash-like "Pilgrims in a Holy Land," the band utilizes its common call-and-shouted-response between Wiebe and his backing players to great effect.
But where Owl ultimately succeeds is in the risks it takes: "Sleepless" finds Wiebe cooing in an especially nasally tone, helping the toned-down, heavily '90s-influenced track stand out as a winner, and "The Tearjerker" finds this band of punks even employing a pedal steel to properly sell its '50s rock ballad take.
Is it enough to dispel the notion that the Gamblers are forever a live band, first and foremost? Probably not. But as pop-punk records go, Owl flies quite high.