After several weeks of alt-country/Americana winter slumber, this week we return to a more spirited selection in the second full-length release of Austin, Tex., pop-rockers Oh No! Oh My!, People Problems – out on January 18. Blending traditional, straight-forward pop rock in the early-Beatles / Ben Folds vein with more delicate, yet fully-orchestrated constructions – a la Sufjan Stevens and Belle and Sebastian – the troupe of four multi-instrumentalists add a dose of rock muscle on occasion to further bolster their efforts.
The dozen track-strong collection enters with the promising "Walking Into Me," a clean-sounding mix of acoustic guitars, dreamy organ and a bouncy rhythm, all in just over 3 minutes. Its tough to say who in the quartet does what on a given number, although it seems co-frontmen Joel Calvin and Greg Barkley split some combination of guitars and other stringed instruments, while Tim Regan handles the keyboard and organ parts and Joel Calvin oversees the percussion campaign – although their background materials all suggest fluid duty assignments. In all, it doesn't negatively impact the group's lo-fi meets hooky-pop vibe.
The opener's follow-up, "You Were Right" is decidedly the pick of the crop here, bursting in with an Johnny Cougar-era Mellencamp sound, with an added bit of Sloan's pop sensibility. It's brisk and catchy, but doesn't lack much in punch. It's also the record's most guitar-driven product, which ultimately provides a nice contrast to the more subtle approach of the album. The following "Again Again" is more illustrative of the bulk of the project, and it is here where more of the Ben Folds influence is apparent. While not piano-driven, the tune's lyricism and melodic foundations are more in keeping with Folds' catalog. For instance, a line like, "perhaps what's left of me is invisible twice a week, from noon 'til three" could have been penned by the Nashville-based songwriter.
After the Steely Dan-inspired "No Time for Talk," Calvin summons his inner Stuart Murdoch on the gentle "I Don't Know." It hangs on the same fragility that defines much of Belle and Sebastian's work. Meanwhile, "So I Took You" is more robust, which is ironic considering Calvin derived the number while in a hospital recovering from a significant vehicular accident, and its Sopranos finale-style ending is easily the albums' most startling and haunting moment.
The lushly-orchestrated "Brains" and more timid ballad, "Not the One" are solidly-built, but not captivating. But "There Will Be Bones" is certainly the record's more daring effort, pairing Sufjan-flavored schizophrenia with Lennon/McCartney songwriting structure in a swift 3:37. The number reveals a deeper reservoir of vision and ability for the quartet to exploit in the future. In fact, the final verse seems to suggest such an awareness, as Calvin notes, "I'm making art now, so you know – there might be room for you."
Indeed, the group references its Beatles influences directly on "Should Not Have Come to This," pointing to McCartney's Abbey Road track, "Carry That Weight," with the same emotional gravity as its predecessor. And be sure to hang around to the end, as the breezy "Summerdays" ends the collection on an upbeat note, and even its 6:29 seem to sail by, although its darker subject matter presents an interesting confusion to close upon.
Come for: "You Were Right"
Stay for: "Summerdays"
You'll be surprised by: "There Will Be Bones"