Thursday, April 29, 2010

Album Review: Oh No! Oh My! - Oh No! Oh My!

Oh No! Oh My!: Oh No! Oh My!
self-released (2006)


Right off the bat, there are certainly many things to admire about Oh No! Oh My! Originally hailing from Austin, Texas, the band is filled to the brim with gifted multi-instrumentalists using a wide range of instruments, leaving the band with no undisputed leader, but rather a very collective sound. Furthermore, their self-titled debut album was self-released by the band in 2006, from there earning some mild press coverage, a review from Pitchfork, and gigs opening for the Flaming Lips and Gnarls Barkley.

As for the music itself, it is at times lyrically strange, but the songs are overarchingly light and melodic, blending indie-pop and folk influences while songwriters Greg Barkley and Daniel Hoxmeler offer their takes on mainly girls and relationships. Despite the surefire catchiness of the album’s multitude of pop hooks and glistening beats, some notable flaws are encountered throughout the album. With its orchestra of diverse instruments and la-la choruses, Oh No! Oh My!’s carefully produced sheen turns the record into a style vs. substance competition. That’s not to say that there is no substance to hold up the band’s flamboyant style; few songs blend together too much and the sunshine melodies are complemented by sunshine lyrics that subtly turn not-so-innocent, making for some surprising and funny moments when listening intently.

The album’s opener “Skip the Foreplay” characterizes the general idea of the album, blending electro-pop and folk guitar with a sing-along chorus. Lyrics here are also demonstrate the band’s simple yet strange narratives, describing an unplanned pregnancy with an undeveloped ending: “When you finally told her dad / It was strange 'cause he was glad/ La la la la la la la.” The follow up “Walk in the Park” has a more straightforward folk melody with a warm acoustic guitar, which is in fact the most aesthetically pleasing and skillfully played instrument on the album. Its catchy, accessible chorus makes it one of the album’s best songs, but even in a song about taking a walk in the park, you have witty surprises: “Nice day for a walk in the dark / Nice day for a drive-by shooting / This world has a warm, sunny heart.”

However, although there are certainly a number of gems to follow, continuing to listen to the album as a whole, a steady, predictable formula arises. Part of the “substance” problem with Oh No! Oh My! is that songs tend to carry a whiny slacker vibe that can be annoying at times. Greg Barkley’s warbled, meandering and high-pitched voice comes to symbolize in the album a shy, overly sensitive teenage boy unable to understand his failures with girls. This is certainly not “emo,” but the hypersensitivity of Oh No! Oh My!’s sound, especially on songs like “I Love You All the Time,” “Jane is Fat,” and “Farewell to All My Friends,” can certainly leave the band to be described as “cute.” In this respect, I would predict this album to appeal more musically and thematically to girls than guys, but this is not an exclusive rule.

It is ironic then that another album highlight is “Lisa, Make Love! (It’s Okay!),” another high-school-shyness story, but this time involving a shy girl. While the song is perfectly in line with the album’s themes awkward teen love, with its basic, no-catch storytelling, it is probably the most touching and heartfelt song here. Final highlights include “The Backseat,” the album’s epic number with a heart-wrenching tale of the sudden end to a long-term relationship for Hoxmeler, and “Women are Born in Love,” the tongue-in-cheek but oddly poignant closer.

Oh No! Oh My! is certainly right up the alley of fans of light, melodic indie pop. One of the song’s off of the band’s follow up EP Between the Devil and the Sea can be heard in the background of a commercial for the film Juno, which turns out to be an excellent indicator of the type music to expect in Oh No! Oh My!: quirky and with an attitude, but sensitive and cute. There are definitely some strong songs here that offer warm pop melodies and thematic elements about love that nearly all young adults can relate to in some way. But if you’re like me and have a definitive tolerance level for “cuteness” in indie music, Oh No! Oh My! may just be good for an occasional, but quality spin.

"Walk in the Park":

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