Review Summary: Two girls, a guy and a masterpiece.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Listening to Melbourne trio Otouto is strange, in the fact that it serves as both a familiar experience as well as a refreshing one. Familiarity is on account of the group's sound, which is established within the realm of quirky indie pop. The refreshment, however, comes in the form of the fact they are as bored of indie pop's conventions as you are. Pip
, the band's debut album, sees sisters Martha and Hazel Brown weave their soft, intrinsic harmonies across both their adventurous and creative arrangements and percussionist Kishore Ryan's intricate drumming style. Otouto might have a sound that's somewhat accessible, but the truth is you won't find an album quite like this one around anywhere else at the moment. And that, dear listener, is most certainly a compliment.
There's a lot to take in upon first listens of Pip
. The band's sound might circulate around a minimal amount of instruments purely on face value, but the end result is surprisingly a lot more expansive than what you might initially believe. Keys and synthesizers of a variety of tones - often surprisingly harsh and dissonant ones, too - fill out strategically underneath guitar lines that are simple and often quite spacious. The underlying percussion, meanwhile, create patterned dynamics that keep the songs consistently interesting and engaging, even when a slow-motion style rhythm is attempted. The subtle extra layers of instrumentation that slide into the mix help the group in their admirable efforts to create a much more avant-garde environment than your standard indie band. For instance, a violin is strummed and an upside-down cooking sieve is struck on the gorgeous sway of "Cartoon Shoes", giving the song a strange baroque pop flavour in its opening sequence and an incessant ricocheting rhythm to accompany the entire affair. Elsewhere, a banjo is hit with a drum stick on closer "Plum", as the song's refrain of "I heard you were having headaches" in a variety of peculiar stop-start phrasings, as well as in a round; while the high E string of an acoustic guitar is played in a continuous loop as a vocoder treats O-shaped sighs in "Autumn". Don't be alarmed if it's all coming across a little too 'arthouse' on paper, however. The band are indeed fearless in their approach to their music, but the experiments assist in the songs' environment being established and consolidated rather than detracted from.
Subsequently, it's the little things intricately worked into Pip
that help the band stand out. These are everywhere on the album - whether it be Ryan's pots-and-pans approach to the drums (quite literally in most instances), the Browns' delicate vocal tapestry ("Astronauts", "Twelve Ten"), or even the band's tilted-head lyrical perspectives (sample: "Falling in love is like watching a really long video"). Otouto have developed a sound that allows them to create completely individual songs that are all exceptional and fascinating works both separately and collectively. "Sushi" holds less than ten lines of actual lyrics - Martha Brown sings of mistaking a sushi eater "for a man putting on a fake mustache" as she grows paranoid as "the rain makes it sound like there's someone else in the house". Even still, this strange poetry is able to fluently develop across one of the band's most pleasant arrangements. The guitar is light and twangy, while both Kishore's percussion and Martha's simple, kitschy piano line are defining of the song's upbeat, playful and instantly lovable nature. "Tennis Players" serves (forgive the pun) as one of the group's most basic works from an instrumental perspective, with minimal guitar and stick-dented kitchenware serving as the song's predominant centrepiece. Martha turns this mouse-quiet affair into a gentle ode to her broken heart, as what is possibly her defining vocal performance takes to the forefront. "I bet you think I'm dreaming of you in the dark", she sighs in the key of pure melancholy, before silently sticking the knife in, making sure every syllable is heard loud and clear: "I am not." Otouto aren't the ballad-writing types. Given repeated listens to this gem, however, and your heart is likely to be as heavy as you can only imagine hers was at the time of writing.
What we have on our hands is an album rich in originality, versatility and lasting quality. To think that what could potentially be the best Australian album of the year has come so very out of the blue only adds to the excitement that surrounds it further. Regardless of whether you're after music from outside the square and beyond, freshly-conceived new Australian music or simply an artistic journey that is worth every second of your time, Pip
can only really be described as essential listening.