With a resume of playing shows with electronic madmen Battles, and being called a fusion of punk, Americana and bluegrass, the first song off their new album, Outside, comes off as a complete wash-out.
O’Death? More like O’Snore.
Maybe it was just that first song, “Bugs.” When the chorus drops it has a pretty slick little banjo riff and maybe the song would be a lot better live (most likely), but this sounds like easy listening off the Irish channel on a bad radio station. Punk? I don’t think so. Americana? You’re joking, right?
This Brooklyn five-piece has been chucking out scrambled CD’s at concerts and playing shows since forming in 2003, apparently performed over 100 gigs in 2006 and when their 2007 LP dropped, it won a Shortlist prize. Not bad.
Still trying to hear the punk references in here though.
Skipping forward to “Alamar,” you get a lukewarm Tom Waits feel towards the end of the song with the whole industrial percussion vibe, but it’s still not really doing it for me.
“Black Dress,” really starts to pick this whole album up from the bland dust where it’s been resting. An intro of chilling picking…And then it breaks down into some sort of Billy Bragg sing-a-long…A little gypsy jig ensues and Greg Jamie sings about clipping the wings of children and comforting the homeless in a long black dress. Then the weird instrumentals come in, and you kind of picture this black and white musical with a twisted side.
An eerie minimalistic jam called “Look at the Sun,” incorporates some stripped down poetic lyrics and some half-hearted plucking before wailing into this epic chorus and “Howling Through,” finally picks up the energy, and oh, looks like they’re finally bringing that Americana and what sounds like a sitar roughly choked up with some Irish-Goth rock or something. Picture burly men grabbing their pitchforks and storming the castle. Jesus.
“Don’t come back,” starts out with a beautiful instrumental intro, some little piano touches and the strings are a real treat. Listening to “Don’t come back,” has been my favorite part of this whole album for sure. Maybe the band should just keep the whole thing instrumental. It’s the overwrought Irish vocals that are a little tedious and take away from the poignancy they can’t seem to reach with the obnoxious, call-to-arms voice.
“Pushing Out,” is back to Greg Jamie’s vocals and you know who he sounds like? Gordon Downie from the Tragically Hip. It’s a little uncanny, actually, but we only need one Gordon Downie and even he can be a little too much to bother with sometimes. The song does a fresh tempo change and takes it up a notch from the snooze that is the beginning of the song, but it seems a little too late to save face on this one.
Bizarre huffing, wheezing clanking noises join the end of “Pushing Out,” up with the next track, “Back of the Garden,” and just when you think it’s going to crashing off somewhere really edgy, “Back of the Garden,” just limps off into some poppy verse-chorus-verse structure, and while the banjo progression in between vocals is actually touching, the vocal melodies are slightly irritating.
The album concludes with “The Lake Departed,” which begins with some Nintendo-sounding opening, which could quite possibly be interesting as it blends with these dramatic strings and sweeping tin can percussion, and even the vocals demand more than they have on this entire thing.
Basically the whole album starts out on weak crutches and stumbles along to this last track here, which appears to be the one they put the most passion into; the vocals are more urgent and the violin drags itself on in a death dance through the grimness and it feels like a funeral march for someone who’s not quite dead yet.
O’Death might put on a better live show, but in the meantime maybe they should work more on capturing whatever magic they may have in the studio, because right now, I’m straining my ears to try and hear it.