Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Prepare to be swept up in the clutches of O'Death

It's not unusual to find a band that tries to pull off a broad range of styles. The ones that make it work, let alone the ones that master multiple techniques, are quite the rare breed.

New York based sextet O'Death mixes folk, indie, alt-country, and Americana into a blend that sounds as if it hails from a place closer to the Ozarks than the city that never sleeps.

If you've lent an ear to the band's previous efforts, you may have heard a punkier, rootier side of O'Death. Vocalist Greg Jamie has become known for going totally nuts during performances, evoking an image of a stark raving mad, possessed by a banshee, fiery eyed baptist preacher, seeking in vain to reach out to sinners in the hands of an angry god.

Expect less of that on Outside. The new LP is a much quieter, more intimate and more personal experience. It's a very moody album; it paints a portrait of despair, discontent, and the inevitably of death.

The lyrics on this album on the whole are nothing short of fantastic. The lead single, "Bugs," reflects on how fast life passes by, and how it can be a struggle to make the most of it. "Alamar" tells of a man who lost his lover, and his hope of one day meeting her again in the next lifetime.

Other tracks are more blunt in their imagery. "Look at the Sun" sees the speaker caught in nightmare in which he is buried alive. You can sense the panic as describes the struggle to breathe, with the dirt covering his lungs. "Ghost Head" features even more sinister imagery, describing blood that is still fresh on the narrator's hands.

"Don't Come Back" is a nice little pensive instrumental, impressively demonstrating that the band doesn't even need lyrics to be able to set a mood.

And then there is the closer, "The Lake Departed." With its driving organ, oppressive percussion, and muffled vocals, it sounds like a demented funeral dirge. Or maybe like the world's ending.

This song will scare the hell out of you, and make you weep at the same time.

Musically, Outside is pretty heavy on mixing a gothic sound into its folk/country theme, particularity in the opening strains of each song. The combination of fiddle, banjo, and ukulele work together to create melodies that are eerie and disquieting, but you won't be able to stop listening.

The main tipping point on this album tends to be Jamie's vocals. On first listen I didn't think he was that great. At times he seems to come across as a little too quaint; he seemed to be fulfilling a few too many stereotypes associated with southern/country type singers.

But it's key to realize what Jamie is attempting to do here. As you listen to his tales of loss and regret, you can begin to empathize and relate to him, and realize he's not so unlike yourself. It's like he's a good old friend you're taking a journey with, an effect I don't think they could have captured with a frilly, over the top style singer.

What type of person would this album appeal to? Although it's not quite the same bag, it's likely this album would likely appeal to fans of the O'Brother soundtrack. Also, fans of revivalist country acts like The Carolina Chocolate Drops or The Secret Sisters may find much to like here.

But the real question: could a country music fan appreciate this record? Think of it like this. This album is about as far from the gleaming lights and honky tonk of Nashville as you can get.

This type of music will make you understand what it feels like to be alone in a dark shed in Appalachia for 20 hours a day with nothing but your banjo and a bottle of moonshine, and nothing to think about except for how the end is going to come. It doesn't get any more real than this.

Outside is undoubtedly a major step forward for O'Death. They've gone from being a novelty throwback band to creating a work of art that is inspiring both musically and thematically.

So don't be afraid to get swept into O'Death's clutches; death's embrace has never felt more chilling, nor tasted so sweet.

Score: 85/100

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