Review Summary: O'Brother make steady progress on their sophomore album.
With the release of Garden Window
, Atlanta-based O'Brother struck a chord with listeners. Amid its numerous successes, the quintet's debut full-length ranked among the best albums of 2011 as selected by Sputnik users. The positive reception of the record enabled the band to tour extensively, putting them in a favorable position before the irrevocable second effort. O'Brother are perfectly aware of their established sound's strength, and their new output doesn't really mark any significant shift in style in relation to their coveted debut. The outfit's approach remains fairly original, though. Bridging the gap between two entirely different music realms, Disillusion
combines the vulnerability of indie rock with the crushing heaviness of sludge metal. This unlikely pairing continues to work as a distinguishing feature of their oeuvre.
O'Brother are at their peak when they delve into direct, emotionally wrenching cuts. The infectiousness they emanate peppers the album's first half. “Parasitical” seethes with strong melodies and smooth transitions built upon distorted riffs and pounding bass lines, whereas “Context” integrates massive levels of distortion with a pulsating groove to splendid effect. While most tracks retain a perfect symbiosis of indie rock and sludge metal colored by a dash of post-hardcore, the densely textured “Path Of Folly” shows that the act's songcraft may be equally evocative even in its mellowed-out mode.
Longer numbers, which expectedly propel the latter half of the disc, reveal the group's progressive tendencies, often verging into post rock, psychedelic and ambient territories. “Oblivion” is commendable with its gradual descent into madness, but it's the title track that stands out. Patiently unraveling from dreamy soundscapes, through a menacing build-up halfway through, to a merciless series of violent outbursts, the song demonstrates the quintet's uncanny knack for crafting tense dynamics, later reaffirmed by the industrialized terror of “Absence.” The sole slip-up is the underwhelming ambient closer “Radiance” that fails to provide the album with a satisfying conclusion.
Singer and guitarist Tanner Merritt remains the outfit's biggest asset. His powerful, if tormented vocals play a pivotal role in forging an emotional bond with the listener. On many occasions he steps beyond his comfort zone, merging impassioned howls with demented screams and unsettling falsetto which would make Mike Patton proud. In fact, Merritt's admirably versatile performance is the catalyst for the album's most arresting moments. “Perilous Love” sees him going through various stylistic shifts at ease, enriching the sludgy noise-rock arrangement with an appropriately ferocious delivery. Inspired by a turbulent relationship and his father's struggle with memory loss, “Context” feels deeply personal and genuine, the attributes that apply to the majority of his work on the record.
There's a concept of duality inherent in Disillusion
. The fragile is juxtaposed with the abrasive, the restrained with the bombastic, and the heavenly passages with apocalyptic walls of distortion. O'Brother are becoming more proficient at balancing these divergent facets of their output with every new release. Their sophomore album sounds more assured and dynamic than its predecessor, making steady progress both in terms of cohesion and inventiveness. The record's allure also lies in Merritt's intense vocals that lend the music its emotional core. Overall, Disillusion
certainly lives up to high expectations, and the odds are that O'Brother will appear on the users' year-end list again soon.