Review Summary: Upbeat, fast, and a truly raw sound. If you like the gypsy, creaky, immersive sound that theses guys create, then this really is the album from you.
Hurray for procrastinating! To be honest I wasn't really sure what to review today. In the past 72 hours I have been on a downloading spree, looking for new artists and doing my best to find their albums. I have to say I got an extremely good haul this week, however I have not had the time to really absorb any of them enough to where I feel like I can give an honest and subjective review that actually has some sort of criticism, because so far I've loved everything I've got. Since Wedensday I've been working my way through the "suggested artists" from Last.fm when it came to Gothic Country, and so far I've pretty much worked my way through the first page. Some artists have continued to elude my grasp, however in due time they will be mine. Tonight I wish to talk about an album that was given to me some time ago from a very dear friend of mine. It was actually his suggestion that I review this album, and I cannot really argue with his advice, it is an album I know, I like, and that I have some kind of criticsm for, so without further ado, here's my review for O'Death's second album "Broken Hymns, Limbs, and Skin".
First off I'm going to add a little background information about the band, for those of you who are unaware of who they are and what they do. O'Death originally formed in Brooklyn of 2003 when Greg Jamie (guitar/vocals), Gabe Darling (Banjo), David Rogers-Berry (drums), Jesse Newman (Upright bass), and Bob Pycior(fiddle) began playing shows at the now defunct Apocalypse Lounge at 189 E. 3rd St., New York, NY. There they began to form a small but dedicated fanbase by taking traditional Americana sounds that had influenced each of the members, and adding their own twisted darkside to it. Combining such influences as Prince, Bill Monroe, Neil Young, and The Misfists they were able to add their own twisted spin to what had already been established in Denver back in the mid to late '90's, collectively known as "Gothic Americana" or "Gothic Country". While creating their fanbase in the early to mid 2000's they put together a rare CD-R for concert goers entitled "Carl Nemelka Family Photographs" which would contain the beginnings of their debut LP "Head Home". In 2007 "Head Home" was released and the band would embark on an extensive tour throughout the US and Europe. In mid 2008, the band started recording their follow up "Broken Limbs, Hymns, and Skin" and again, after it was released, embark on a North American tour to promote the album.
Upon first listening of the album, one thing you'll notice if you're following chronologically is that Greg Jamie's vocals are far less harsh. Yes, a vast amount of vocal production work went into this album in a bit of a compromise to create a more accessible vocal style that still retained his harsh and often scratchy "hillbilly- esque". If that was the one thing that turned people away from "Head Home" then obviously this album should be everything "Head Home" was but better. However while it is not far from the truth, new problems do occur with this second studio entry.
The length of the album is one of my biggest complaints, barley clocking over 30 minutes, it really does require your full attention while listen, otherwise it'll be gone. The short length of the album was something I brought up in my .357 String Band review last week, however it does a good job at showcasing their punk influences, which in turn, just shows how interbred genres of music are becoming. That is obviously a positive trait as that is often how genres stand the test of time, by inbreeding with other genres and seeing what deformed children come spewing out. The punk/country one is a real interesting one, however I feel it can kind of alientate older fans of the genre who begin to feel ostricized by not only the punk speed and content, but also by the style of dress that certian artists like Hank Williams III and .357 String Band have adopted. I personally don't see this as a problem, but I can certainly see how older listeners of Country could begin to feel left out, however that's just time in general, you either carve out a section of it and fill it with whatever makes you happy then and there, or you grow up with the music and evolve into what it becomes.
For people who are not old enough to be recalling the time you saw Johnny Cash open for Elvis then this is a rare treat, something truly original that has yet to be tainted by the garbage masquerading as "Country" these days on the radio. First and foremost I feel compelled to build some kind of a shrine to Bob Pycior, their fiddle player because the man is a beast on that thing. Forget "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", Bob Pycior could fiddle circles around Lucifer, while finding a cure for AIDs, cancer, and curing world hunger. He really is to O'Death what Tom Morello is to Rage Against The Machine. He is that mad scientist, working fevorishly to create something new and originally that cannot help but astonish you. Now this is not to say that the rest of the band is chopped liver, not by any stretch. With seven musicians, it really allows you to create a whole sound, like I stated earlier on my Monday entry with Pinebox Serenade. It allows you to create a whole new dimension of sound to truly captivate people.
Lyrically, I would have liked to have heard more stories on this album as Country tends to be a story-telling genre of music, but what was put on the album was truly amazing. The two tracks that really stood out for me were the acoustic tracks "Grey Sun" and "Angeline". "Angeline" being my favorite out of the two, essentially about a selfish woman who's greed ostrized her from her own family, letting her to grow old and eventually die alone. It really does the job of creating a depressing atmosphere, but an atmosphere that is more inviting than anything. If anything, the song serves as a reminder of the people that are around you and make up your life, that perhaps one should give them some slack and love them for who and what they are, rather than become weary of what they're not. "Lowtide" is another terrific track, however I have really yet to determine a particular meaning, and up until recently I was convinced the chorus went along the lines of "I held her face in water, I held her broken feet". The lyrics do tend to be a bit cyrptic at times, but as a musician myself, I often find myself more drawn to the melody and instrumentation on the album as opposed to the lyrics, making them secondary.
Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed this album. In fact I remember very distinctly my first real encounter with it and loving it the very second "Lowtide"'s opening octave chords rang out. While like everything else, it's not perfect, it's incredibly enjoyable for both those who are looking for some fast paced, punk inspired "bluegrass" Country. If you're not a fan of the vocals (which I know a lot of people aren't) it's not hard to really mentally erase them and focus solely on the musical side which is extremely well put together. Even then, give the vocals a try, for one hour, drop whatever pretentious attitude you have towards hillbillys and embrace your inner hillbilly, that very well may be the best way to enjoy the album.