Trying to review this record lives up to the name of the band. I kid of course, since the band name is more than an arbitrary exclamation but it is a doozy. Everything about O’Brother is about taking you on a sonic journey, and the same route can lead you to a myriad of destinations here.
“Malum” assaults you with its foreboding percussion, although this certainly is not a hardcore vibe. Perhaps more of a post-hardcore vibe, in the case of the opening track. Phrases and words that come to mind include “wall of sound,” angry, frantic, and atmospheric. You get the point of this band yet? Well, maybe you might by the end of this review. Or, perhaps you should just obey that little spark of curiosity that is likely burning in you right now.
One strength of this record that outshines many others is track placement. “Malum” builds up so much tension that if you aren’t moving by the end of this track you will be by the time the bass-line drops in its successor, “Lo.” Another case in point are the back-to-back “Machines Part 1” and “Machines Part 2.” While both are angst ridden, the former thematically (in music and lyrics) gravitates toward conflict and questions and the latter brings forth a message that mixes surrender and resignation.
Just as the band shines at bringing out angst-ridden post-hardcore tracks, they succeed at the drawn out opuses many of their contemporaries attempt to capture but fail to rein in. “Poison” and “Lay Down” are a pair that might as well be one composition. Remember what I said about track placement? Poison flows into Lay Down in a way that is elegant in its simplicity. Eerie undertones take the front seat in Poison, giving way to earnest pleas that seem to be directed at God in “Lay Down.” The theme and title of the record come forth here, with lyrics such as “Abba, Father are you sleeping as we toil through your gardens keeping? I’ll lay down and begin to grow, right beneath your garden window.”
A review would not be complete without mentioning the nearly 14 minute long quasi-prayer that is “Cleanse Me.” Like earlier songs, the band uses the garden metaphor to articulate trust that despite the presence of flaws that come with being human and attempts at growing that seem to be in vain, that higher Power they look to will honor their efforts. At the 7 minute mark of this track, a riff emerges amidst a borderline whisper that questions “Are you listening? Cause my breath grows null. Tired quips begin to wither. Who can reason with time?” This movement is literally soul-stirring as the track transitions into its final movement, carrying reverent, repetitive cries of “Lay me in the dirt and I will grow!”
There’s something to be said for a band that since 2006 (the year of their founding) has released an EP on vinyl, toured with Thrice, Brand New, Deas Vail, and more and put out a debut LP full of 63 breathtaking minutes of music. Their live show is not to be missed either, just read either of the reviews of their recent tour with Thrice that appear elsewhere on Mezzic. Garden Window is one of the best releases of 2011, and O’Brother is sure to have a promising future if they keep this up.