O'Brother - Garden Window
Record Label: Triple Crown Records
Release Date: November 15th, 2011
There's a certain pocket of bands writing really good "rock" music these days. Maybe even "alternative" for the sake of genre-specific argument. For the sound I'm speaking of, I'll define "rock" music as that of the genre most of us grew up with when the radio was good. Whether it was Nirvana, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, etc. - we knew there was beauty and thought between the layers. Every now and again a band will come along that will paralyze us with a sound built on grit, feedback and cryptic auras stacked like a triple pane glass wall thickly layered in percussion, deafening guitars and a guilt-ridden, beautifully sparked voice. All of these thoughts were running through my head the first time I heard O'Brother's debut full-length, Garden Window, and they continue to do so.
A couple of months back, I was sitting in the band's van with bassist Anton Dang, and he played me the album's opening piece. "Malum" sounded like the darkness of Converge met the thick force of Cave In which made for a Colour Revolt b-side. It sets the lighting and color for most of the album ahead. Tanner Merritt's voice cuts jaggedly, but clean and boisterous all its own through the hour long album. When co-producer Andy Hull and Merritt exchange vocal duties in "Sputnik," it makes any amped moment on Simple Math look almost too clean and polished. It other words, you can taste the ground of the South off their tongues against the rest of the instruments' tones and fret play. "Machines Part I" and "Machines Part II" flow as one as I believe they were meant to be one track to begin with. The first part rocks of fury and striking harmonies balanced back and forth, while the second part's opening calm drops out right before the storm of guitar riffs and feedback that makes the band's friends and album's engineers, Manchester Orchestra (Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell), sound like they created still waters with "Pride" and "Virgin." It's a damaging sound I haven't felt through my senses since the end of Colour Revolt's "Elegant View" off of Plunder, Beg and Curse. The dark Southern frequencies of O'Brother's contemporaries not only run thick, but there seems to be an unspoken competition of who can perform the nastiest tones through their tubes as well.
It's Garden Window's calmer moments that will leave some listeners polarized. It's not that their most paced moments are their faults - not by any means - but if you're looking to headbang the entire time, don't get that neck too (un)comfortable. "Poison!" has a slow crawl that's almost as infectious as any of the album's heavy riffs. "Cleanse Me" contains the cleanest notes on the album in its bridge sandwiched between the fuzz and sludge of the rest of the track. The angelic "Last Breath" is a well placed counter to the album's opening white noise, a calming movement to most of the album's heighten appeal. Garden Window shows how a band can be just as destructive without cranking ones volumes up.
The reworking of "Lay Down" (first heard on the band's split with Sainthood Reps) is the crown jewel of the record and a contemporary framework in constructing a rock song that keeps you held through its workings of builds, decrescendos and amps that go past eleven. "Lay Down" also gets helped by the placement of "Poison!" as a crawling intro, but the track's instrumental pacing and Merritt's voice against Dang's blunt bass lines that make it cryptically mesmerizing. The soft hush of Merritt's voice immediately cranked up with the rest of the band during the first chorus is the sharp left that will violently grab you with each listen at the minute-thirty mark. After the haunting bridge, the track just tears through your soul for almost two minutes. That is what rock music should do to you. That audible excitement is what bands like Sainthood Reps and Balance and Composure are bringing back to the forefront since Thrice damn near perfected it with Vheissu and continues to carry the torch to this day.
When I saw O'Brother open up for Manchester Orchestra's spring tour two years ago, I knew the band had the potential to be the next big thing. It goes without saying that the band's close work with members of Manchester Orchestra and their opening stint with The Dear Hunter and Thrice already throw them into the collective of this new wave of thought-provoking rock music we've seen grow over the past couple of years. O'Brother is another sharp tool chipping away at the word "genre" by writing filthy auras of audible scenery and emotion. If Garden Window is the band's first proper engraving on the wall of sound, here's hoping they can keep up with the rest of their peers and friends by seeing how far they can blossom their signature even further this next decade.
Already listened to it about 4 times and it just gets better every time. First time I heard the guest vocalist in Cleanse Me come in right as the band picks up was haunting. Easily a top 10 album of this year.
Good review, Adam! I do think it would've been appropriate to give a little more attention the Cleanse Me. After all, not many bands can just completely pull of a 14 minute song like they did on this album.