Posted on June 9th, 2011 (12:00 pm) by Joseph Bogen

The first (and, until recently, last) time I heard O’Death was in the summer of 2007. This Brooklyn folk-rock band had been getting a lot of attention in the music press, and another band with roots in country and folk music that I liked had opened for them at least once. I heard news that they were playing one of the many free summer outdoor shows around the city and decided to meet up with a friend to enjoy the concert. Well the friend never showed, and O’Death ended up leaving me disappointed.

It wasn’t for lack of trying on part of the band. While lead singer Greg Jamie primarily played seated, the band still put on a high energy performance, shouting and jumping about the stage. Drummer David Rogers-Berry managed to sometimes steal the show by beating the shit out of the skins and throwing chains all over the place (I mean he literally had a drum set that somehow incorporated chains). But the performance didn’t connect. Underneath all of that shouting and energy, I just couldn’t find anything to latch onto.

Now with Outside, O’Death have dialed back the energy and improved the song-craft noticeably. While the album never feels listless, the performances are appropriately restrained, allowing the songs to shine through. Outside isn’t perfect, but this is the rare album that convinces me that I should give the group a second chance.

O’Death’s gentler approach begins with the first song on Outside, "Bugs". It starts with finger-picked acoustic guitar and gentle vocals. The rest of the band quickly comes in, rattling chains and all. Yet even with the chaos of the rattling chains and brisk snare beat, the song never loses its gentleness. Finally, when Greg Jamie’s vocals become wordless, the song becomes captivating. “Ghost Head” follows with a slower, heavier drum beat, but the song is just as measured as "Bugs". It sounds as if fiddle player Bob Pycior is getting some help on the strings on this song as well as a couple of others. This song takes a bit more time to build steam than “Bugs”, but the closing “Go like the ghost head” refrain is equally haunting.

While the two songs that open are both somewhat mournful, neither descends into gloom. The same can not be said for “Alamar”, which makes full use of rattling chains, moaning backing vocals and a perfectly distorted acoustic guitar to create the album’s loudest song so far. It’s followed by “Black Dress”, one of the album’s most well crafted songs. The chorus is one of Outside's best moments, but unfortunately the weak instrumental passage that follows keeps the song from captivating me the way “Bugs” did.

A loud shambling instrumental open leads me to think that “Ourselves” might be when this album returns to O’Death’s more energetic style of playing; but this quickly gives way to some of the most restrained playing yet. The song eventually builds itself back up, but it never really explodes. To be honest, this is one that the guys could have taken further. As it stands, the "Ourselves" just feels underwritten. By contrast, “Look at the Sun” doesn’t waste a moment. It begins with some of the quietest, gloomiest playing yet, but eventually builds to a climax that almost feels psychedelic.

For me, this album’s success stems from O’Death’s willingness to turn down the volume and focus on crafting melodies. “Howling Through” is probably the album’s loudest song, and it’s a nice little blues stomp. But when put next to the gorgeous gentle, instrumental “Don’t Come Back,” it is instantly forgotten. This isn’t to say that every quiet moment on here is a home run for O’Death. “Pushing Out” is saved by a closing instrumental passage that is one of the album’s few moments of exuberant joy, but songs like “Back of the Garden” don’t need any fireworks to captivate.

It’s impossible not to listen to Outside as O’Death’s "Death" album. The band had been put on hiatus while drummer David Rogers-Berry underwent cancer treatment, and the specter of death seems to haunt all of the songs on this album. O’Death already have a well earned reputation for their raucous live shows, but for most of Outside, the band takes a much more measured approach. Whatever prompted this, it serves the band well. Not every song on here is a winner, and sometimes the band’s acoustic instrumentation feels ill-suited for these songs. But Outside is a necessary maturation of their sound that is guaranteed to hold the attention of fans and possibly win them some new ones.

Track List:

1. Bugs
2. Ghost Head
3. Alamar
4. Black Dress
5. Ourselves
6. Look At The Sun
7. Howling Through
8. Don't Come Back
9. Pushing Out
10. Back Of The Garden
11. The Lake Departed

O'Death: Outside
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

74 / 100
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