Review Summary: hinging on nigh-perfect melodies and built upon a foundation of faultless arrangements, ‘Through the Deep, Dark Valley’ is a rare (and free) self-produced masterpiece
I find a bit of relief in how unassuming brother/sister duo The Oh Hellos make themselves out to be. They’re frank about their influences, and you can hear it all over their music: the kitschy bass-drum-led “folk”-pop Mumford & Sons made famous, the tranquil vocal pads of Sufjan Stevens, the up-and-down dynamic arrangements of The Head and the Heart; it’s all present. Now, considering how ubiquitous and obnoxious this Lumineer-y trend in popular music is, I understand I’m making the pair’s 2012 debut - Through the Deep, Dark Valley
- a non-compelling package. But they’re not only okay about being realistic about which band’s books they’re taking cues from, they’re also okay about doing a much better job at it than Cpt. Mumford himself could dream of. Through the Deep, Dark Valley
is a thoughtful, insightful, and masterfully arranged/performed album that is both entrancing and humble in spirit.
Based on a concept too broad in delivery for anyone to actually pick up on, Through the Deep, Dark Valley
is both a exercise in restraint and bombast. In its quieter and more reflective moments, vocalist Tyler Heath bleats “when I saw my demons, I knew them well and welcomed them
” over a morose, organ-like accordion pad and sister Maggie remorses about stealing from her father “all I thought I could sell
” over a playful, winding acoustic lead. In these moments, you’re next to the Heath siblings, enveloped by their accessible storytelling and their perfect melodies/delivery. But before you know it, a fire in their bellies roars in with wordless gang-vocals, rapid hand-clapping, cymbal clashing and cautionary bellows of “there is no courage in flirting with fear to prove you’re alive!
” No different than the intoxicating lull of their daintier moments, The Oh Hellos are right at home churning out infectious, foot-stomping anthems destined to define long summer road trips and energetic live shows alike.
Then again, there is the track ‘Second Child, Restless Child’ which is a frustrating amble into the worst parts of Mumford-land, and the metaphor-murdering Switchfoot b-side ‘I Have Made Mistakes’, but they’re easily overlooked in the light of the absolutely perfect dynamic of ‘Like the Dawn’ and the lyrically masterful ‘In Memoriam’. Maggie and Tyler have a knack for writing some of the most invasive melodies I’ve heard and marrying them to both provocative lyrics and powerful arrangements. Through the Deep, Dark Valley
is an album worth listening to from front to back, in ceaseless repetition -- a piece of music that benefits you more each time you visit it, and one that will make you feel unfaithful when you start playing it less. Inevitably, some people will struggle to initially distinguish it from music of the same ilk, but I hold a firm belief that The Oh Hellos have not only released one of the best albums of 2012, but one that should raise the proverbial bar for anybody interested in making melody-heavy “folk-pop” (whatever the hell that is). This is a stand-bearer.
And did I mention it was free?
‘Like the Dawn’, ‘The Lament of Eustace Scrubb’, ‘The Truth Is a Cave’