Review Summary: If Thrice had gone the way of fire rather than earth...
It was just over year and a half ago when I first discovered O’Brother. The Death of Day EP, which they will send you for free if you sign up on their mailing list, had me immediately hooked. O’Brother had put together a refreshing blend of post-rock, indie, and post-hardcore, and before too long the five songs off of that EP had become some of my favorite songs. Another thing that probably helped propel O’Brother forward among bands I love, was the chance to see them live. About a month after I discovered them they were opening for Manchester Orchestra. O’Brother kills it live, if you have the chance to see them do it. I’ve seen them live three times now and each time they get better and better. It was just a couple weeks ago when I last saw them opening for Thrice and Manchester Orchestra. Seeing some of these songs live was a real treat and helped stoked the fire of my excitement for this release.
The thing that stood out to me first and foremost upon listening to Garden Window was how much heavier this album is. “Malum,” the album’s opening track, establishes right from the get go that the next hour of your life is going to be a cryptic sludgy mess as a wall of of distorted guitars come crashing down on you followed up by Merritt’s haunting vocals. O’Brother has recorded a dark album, full of religious skepticism. On “Malum,” Merritt asks ”How great is my debt that my penance should be endless? Lo, my eager eyes will behold the truth” amidst an almost Converge-esque chaos. The closing track “Last Breath” shows that the answers sought after only bring more questions to the surface, “So if God is an acronym, some giver of damnation, then why even bother with the concept of man?” The song also serves as the ‘anti’ “Malum.” While the opening track is arguably the heaviest track on the album, the closing track is by far one of the more calm songs, perfect counterparts to each other.
Musically O’Brother has expanded upon everything that was interesting on their EP, and made it better. Many songs lean more towards post-rock/metal, with “Cleanse Me” clocking in just short of fourteen minutes. Listening to this album leaves you with the feeling that a lot of time was spent working on the continuity of these eleven tracks to make one complete album as songs build off of one another. “Lo” takes the vocal melody that was introduced in “Malum” and rehashes it into a more standard rock song, “Poison” starts off with a more mellow, slower pace and then builds gradually to lead you into the epic track that is “Lay Down.” And Machines Parts I and II, which could very well have started out as one song, serve to crank up the intensity one last time before the last few tracks send you off. Tanner Merritt’s voice is now even more versatile, ranging from the soaring heights of his falsetto to a throaty growl and just about everything in between. Anton Dang is Attila the Hun of bassists, driving a lot of the music found here. At times he can be seen using a bow on his bass, much like Jonsi does in Sigur Ros on his guitar, to give a different tone every now and then. The drum work from Michael Martins has its moments as well. I really enjoy it when Aaron Wamack teams up and they both play a building rhythm like in “Poison,” or “Malum.”
The constant touring over the past couple years has helped O’Brother find their identity as a band, and it has led them to release Garden Window which seems like anything but a debut album. They’ve taken all of their many different influences and mixed them together to do what has become ever-increasingly difficult, break down the walls of genre’s and craft something original. If they can keep it up, at this pace it won’t be long until they will be the band that everyone is looking to for fresh ideas.