Review Summary: One of the best unrecognized records of 2012
The Oh Hellos were a band that came on my radar back in 2011, when the two-person band released its self-titled debut EP. The four-track teaser surprised me with a poignant and heartfelt sound that left me wanting more.
When I found out the pair had released a full-length, I crossed my fingers and gave it a spin, hoping The Oh Hellos could put out a full-length record with the same energy and vibes as their first release.
I wasn’t ready for what came next.
Yes, it’s still folk-rock that combines male and female vocals, but the sound has matured into something many bands spend their whole careers trying to find.
Most noticeable is the chemistry between siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath. The switch between male and female vocals is nearly flawless and doesn’t jar the listener out of the musical landscape being painted by the concept album.
Oh yeah. Did I forget to mention that? “Through The Deep, Dark Valley” is a concept album about struggling with faith and the plight of man.
Now, I’m not a religious person - at all. And yet the storytelling ability of The Oh Hellos tell the narrative of that existential problem with such beauty that the fact that we come to different conclusions didn’t bother me in the slightest.
The music itself sounds part The Lumineers and part Mumford and & Sons, but with more urgency, earnestness, and ingenuity - pure, unadulterated, folk-rock bliss. But even better is that the style and tempo of the music varies quite a bit over the album’s 40-minute duration, and in doing so avoids sounding stale like many other albums of this genre.
One of my favorite songs, “Eat You Alive,” starts off with a few seconds of a stripped down acoustic riff before propelling itself into an upbeat minute and a half expression of sonic joy. Then there’s “Wishing Well,” a muted and moving down-tempo track that is equally as impressive. And in between the two are songs like “The Lament of Eustace Scrub.” The downcast first two minutes of the track are driven by a mournful harmonica, before a clap beat swirls the song into a conflagration of drums, viola, and vocal instrumentation that quickly burns out as calmer violas usher the song out.
The only stumbling block the album has is that perhaps it doesn’t experiment quite enough. While there is some instrument variation, one can’t help but wonder what this album could have been if The Oh Hellos went one step further and fully embraced their creative side.
Ultimately, The Oh Hellos have put out a record that deserves recognition as one of the best of 2012, and sets them aside from the gaggle of folk-rock wannabes crowding the airwaves.
Recommended tracks (It’s a concept album so you should really listen to it all the way through first):
“The Lament of Eustace Scrub”
“Eat You Alive”
“Truth is a Cave”
“Like the Dawn”