Review Summary: Rock ’n’ roll makes me cry in the dawn.
The story of the critically acclaimed debut record has, in many cases, been one of playing out a narrow set of strengths to maximum effect. Groups like Interpol
or The xx
carved out a previously unexplored niche that was narrow yet idiosyncratic enough to yield rewarding results, granting them a limited time of undivided spotlight before fellow musicians caught up and adapted the innovations introduced to the music world. However, what really set them apart from their peers was their ability to not only land one or two hits among the crowds, but also maintain an exceptional level of creative songwriting over the course of a full-length record.
Like many great bands of their kind, Oum Shatt learned how to skillfully exhaust the confines of their genre to meticulous extent. Expanding on their 2013 EP Power To The Women Of The Morning Shift
, the four-piece consisting of several musicians known to connoisseurs of the Berlin music scene (singer Jonas Poppe has been a member of Kissogram, while drummer Chris Imler has played for Jens Friebe and Die Vögel, among others) decided to include all of the four songs on their self-titled debut album, some of them in practically unaltered form. Opening the record, “Power To The Women Of The Morning Shift” and “Madame O” present all of what constitutes the group’s unique quality: jangly, arabesque guitar licks, smooth bass lines and rhythms, and Jonas Poppe’s unsettling themes of goofy wooing (check “Nothing’s so true like the backsides of your knees”), delivered in a croon that speaks not of relaxation; rather, exasperation.
The amount of detail displayed in almost every aspect of the compositions is staggering. Poppe’s and second guitarist Jörg Wolschina’s pristine playing gives a nod to Midwestern music and surf-rock more than once, while showcasing a light-footedness akin to the finest examples of past decade’s post punk. Chris Imler’s drumming, in its effortlessness, contains a latent complexity that will reward anyone willing to listen out to the multitude of arabesque percussion used over the course of the album’s 12 songs. The sheer number of bold catchphrases in Poppe’s lyricism is astounding for a musician of German descent: “Rock ’n’ roll makes me cry in the dawn” (“Power To the Women Of The Morning Shift”), “If you ever happen to climb into my nest / Leave that silly scarf on” (“Silent Girl”), “We’re not dead, we just sometimes forget to breathe” (“Madame O.”) might suffice as examples.
It is not as much the novelty of the sound presented (at times, Oum Shatt
sounds like a pastiche of The xx
played by a Lebanese wedding band) that makes Oum Shatt
such a compelling listen. Much more intriguing is the shamelessness by which the band adapt seemingly overused indie, surf rock or world music set pieces and use them to assemble surprising, but obviously convincing tracks. It is even more unsettling considering that this is not the work of overambitious teenagers but a project launched in the later stages of the members’ careers (the band has an average age of about 40). Unlike many of their peers though, Oum Shatt still have enough punch to write a set of songs that is both playfully experimental and unashamed to ask for a dance.