So. The OTT Band. I was weary. Much like freesoulJAH, this one, too, underwent an evolving perception with me. The difference is that freesoulJAH is freesoulJAH. He is what he is, and it’s unexpected, but in the end, it really kind of works in some weird way. The OTT Band, on the other hand, has taken a very dire marketing misstep here.
I open up this London band’s CD and holy shit. This album art is terrible. It appears to be the equivalent of those over-the-hill American singer/songwriter guys who play in shit ass cover bands full time while pushing out the occasional disc of basement recordings that might have been good fifteen years ago before their ideas were so outdated. You know, cynical bastards that have nowhere to go but the sports bar? The OTT Band’s CD cover has a group of people, who I presume to be said band, in a cheap, candid, pulled back snapsot. The whole thing is soaked in the color orange, and stamped with fonts that apparently were included in Microsoft Publisher 98. How the fuck was I going to review this? If this band truly is comprised of those sports bar frequenting, cover band playing, old wankers, I can’t point all this out to them. I have sympathy for those guys, after all. Is the destruction of their rock star dreams not enough? Now they’ve got to take a verbal ass kicking from some punk ass snot shit American sitting comfortably behind his computer?
I’m happy to report that no…they do not. Hence it is confirmed that one truly cannot tell a book by it’s cover.
The vocals on the opening track, “Don’t Know,” are the last difficult hurdle to get over, but once you make it past, this is a very rewarding listen. It’s not any kind of style that is considered new. However, it is a style that is so difficult to properly execute, there are only a small handful of bands out there that have ever been able to pull it off…and nowadays no one even tries. I’m talking about the music of the 80’s. But not the 80’s you’re familiar with. Not that kitschy, coked out radio discomfort that you know in such forms as Dead or Alive, Thompson Twins or fucking Madonna. The Ott Band is tapped into something far more creative, pure and interesting. It’s that part of the 80’s that the cool kids were into. The early part that bled with the end of the 70’s and was more focused on an innovative, worldly and artistic sound. Music for music and change…not music for money and drugs. The OTT Band resonates loudly with the sounds of The Specials, The English Beat or Sandinista! era Clash.
Those are all UK bands. Maybe this is just a difference in form between the United Kingdom and America, where I was stuck. Maybe they take for granted this kind of sound over there. I just don’t hear anyone doing it anymore. Fortunately, The OTT Band relishes in it. They touch on that blessed sound that is not quite reggae, not quite rock, a little bit closer to dancehall, and strangely uplifting. There is a good use of what sounds like full choirs of people here. There are watery electronics, very notably applied on “Six Million Miles,” that serves as a testament to the detail put into these songs. The range of what they do with the music is also nicely expansive. On one end we have the head bobbing, ska-before-ska-was-ska, “Sending in the Lions,” mixed with odd modern notions of “getting bling.” It’s a playful antithesis to “Special,” a dubby, introspective gem of night music. Everything in between is a carefully laid landscape of pianos, guitars, horns and whatever else was needed to make these songs complete.
The only other complaint I can voice about this band is their website where they have a section called, “Who the **** are The OTT Band?” To this, guys, I gotta recommend that you just type out the “fuck” word. I mean, it’s 2009. Everyone knows what four asterisks mean and most people really enjoy the word “fuck” anyway.
As for the album cover, just ask me next time. I’ll work you up something more fitting…free of charge.
The new Built to Spill album is called There is No Enemy. Before I listened, I was under the impression that I was about to embark on a journey of rainbows and happy faces. Then I saw the album cover and expected something a bit different perhaps. Maybe something deep and dreamy, resonating the idea that everything is going to be just fine. Finally, I let it into my ears and realized that, no, everything was not going to be fine. For an album called There is No Enemy, this album sure has a lot of somewhat depressing insights into the human experience.
I was right about the deep and dreamy, though. Musically, it’s shimmery guitar work is captivating as in any of their prior releases. It also has the odd distinction of a slightly new production style. With the exception of their earliest works, most of their stuff sounds like it’s coming down from a mountain. This one sounds kind of like it was recorded in Doug Martsch’s den. The drums are softly implied and the vocals…well…they might have been recorded in the bathroom. This does not detract, though, at all. On the contrary, it seems more personal and simplistic. This album is for you.
So what kind of things do they have to say to you on this go around? Basically that everything is a mess, everyone has been a bit mislead through history and nothing is going to sustain forever. Perhaps the most jarring of these assertions comes in the song “Things Fall Apart,”
which boasts a fantastic horn solo. Affecting and prolific, Martsch deduces, “If no one thinks of no one / Then no one believes in no one / And no one fucks with no one / Then no one’s afraid of no one / We’ve all seen enough, now it’s time to decide / The meekness of love or the power of pride / It doesn’t matter if you’re good or smart / God damn it, things fall apart.” He gives the impression that he doesn’t just believe it, he knows it…and it’s been on his mind a lot.
All of these fantastically somber lyrics come painted on music that does not cover any new terrain for the band. Everything drifts along pointedly and profoundly, which is to be expected for Built to Spill. The guitar work is strong and detailed and, as usual, repeated listens expose subtle nuances in the music. Yeah. It’s Built to Spill. You know what to expect. It’s good. It’s safe. You can trust it and get a lot of quality time out of it. Just watch out for the bite of those lyrics, damn it.
So given those lyrics, why do they call it There is No Enemy? Well, this is where the poetry of it all is tied together in a neat little package. I’m pretty sure that the reason the album is called There is No Enemy is because all of these human faults and emotions which are brought to the center are pertaining to all of us. Generalized pronouns such as “everyone” and “no one” are abundant here. Our fears are internal and our fates are eternal. There is no enemy because we’re all trudging through the harshness of life together.
Jim O’Rourke pretty much does whatever the hell he wants and more power to him. His production style always feels warm and eccentric, regardless of what he is touching. And yet his roster of things he has touched is rather eclectic. He has produced the likes of Wilco, Kahimi Karie, Stereolab and Joanna Newsom, to name a few. He has scored film by Werner Herzog. He’s been a full fledged member of Gastr Del Sol, Loose Fur and Sonic Youth. He played for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He’s pumped out almost two dozen solo albums. He’s received grants and a Grammy. Now he lives in Tokyo, Japan and, to reiterate, he does whatever the hell he wants.
And again…more power to him.
His newest solo effort, recorded in his Tokyo apartment but sounding much larger, is called simply, The Visitor. It is one long and ever evolving track, clocking in at about thirty-eight minutes. The standard O’Rourke fare is ever present. There are clean, acoustic guitars, delicately touched piano keys, soft ambiance, 70’s era electric guitar flourishes, darkish downturns, distant pedal steel sounds, and touches of driving beats with an emphasis on snare rolls. Yep. It’s all there and eloquently arranged as always.
The tone of the piece may perhaps go through the perceived emotions felt through the duration of the title visitor’s visit. That’s just the obvious assumption, though, and the true intent is between O’Rourke and his music. Suffice it to say that the work changes its colors several times through its duration. As best I can figure, there is an undercurrent of longing that seems to hold the whole thing together. It’s dotted along the way with moments mostly comprised of whimsy or mystery, and a sense of intense satisfaction just before the longing and sentiment return for the very end.
It’s a powerful arrangement of sounds. It would serve well as background music, though to fully appreciate it takes a few close and purposeful listens. There are no vocal parts, but it feels as though dialogue is being traded somewhere in the mix. I suggest a dark and quiet room when you are ready to tune in. You’ll have to make a trip to the record store first, though. There are no digital sales of this one.