Whether it’s great listening material, fantastic performances, or engaging interviews, the boys in O’Brother have been good to us here at Type In Stereo. So it should come as no surprise that Disillusion was one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year for our ragtag bunch of music critics. It was to be the ever-decisive sophomore LP; the album that so frequently makes or breaks a band by challenging them to evolve their sound without losing sight of their roots. Well friends, O’Brother delivered. Oh, how they delivered.
Disillusion is at once a strange and familiar beast. The band’s first LP, Garden Window, was a complex layering of atmosphere and power fuelled primarily by punk rock energy. While the majority of the record could accurately be described as equal parts Radiohead and Thrice, songs like ‘Lo’ and ‘Machines, Pt. 1’ showed that the boys understood unbridled aggression just as well as they understood brooding melancholy. It was these tracks that kept the pace of the album reasonable; it leant the soft tracks dynamic contrast and it gave the huge heavy tracks gravitas. On Disillusion, the punk rock energy is mostly left at the door. The atmospheric soundscapes and the oppressive heaviness are dialled up to just short of the breaking point, and the album’s fuel takes the form of a kind of prog rock spirit. Every song flows into the next with nothing short of grace, and it provides a brutal record that is much more sonically contemplative than its older sibling. The album opens with ‘Come Into the Divide,’ a pseudo-intro track that is built around the unlikely combination of creepiness and groove. It features some fantastically Pink Floydian guitar work with an unrelenting and monotonous bass line as counterpoint, as well as some awfully sexy whisper-singing from Tanner Merritt. The constant echoes, the eerie interplay between falsetto lead vocals and vaguely demonic backups, and the general use of ambience are captivating. It builds and builds until ‘Parasitical’ switches on and gives you permission to breathe again.
The album’s second track takes us back to the post-hardcore we have come to know and love from O’Brother, but it also gives us our first taste of their new tone. It seems that touring with Alice in Chains was a critical turning point for the band, as the thickly distorted guitars, heavy bass lines, and atypical rhythms usually associated with the godfathers of alternative metal are the signatures of many of the most memorable moments on the record. The chorus of ‘Parasitical,’ the foreboding ending of ‘Absence’ (which if I’m fair, sounds closer to Nine Inch Nails than Alice in Chains, but still, the tone is thick and bass-heavy), and the consistently ruthless ‘Context’ are all home to walls of sound that are surprisingly well manicured. They are undoubtedly dark and heavy, but they are far cleaner than the sounds of Garden Window.
And yet, even with a new tone permeating the album, the band has in no way forgotten where they came from. Look no further than ‘Disillusion’ or ‘Oblivion’ to see the continued influence of bands like Thrice and Brand New. ‘Disillusion’ sounds like a brilliant bridge between Brand New’s dark duo of The Devil and God are Raging Inside of Me and Daisy, with reverbed guitars, squeeling feedback, and a sly mix of melody and raw emotion. On the other hand, ‘Oblivion’ sounds like it could have been a lost recording from Thrice’s Major/Minor, all driving rhythms, textured vocals, and dissonant semi-breakdowns. Both are outstanding examples of O’Brother’s self-knowledge – they know their strengths, and they know where they want to go. Few bands are able to find a balance between the two as satisfying as this.
On the softer side of things, ‘Path of Folly’ offers up the spacey arpeggios that only Radiohead seem capable of properly creating. I hesitate to say that O’Brother pulls it off perfectly, but damn it they come awfully close. And then there is the album’s closer, ‘Radiance;’ a beautiful swan song of light guitars and swimming vocal harmonies. These tracks extend the dynamic range of the album and give it a sense of closure – a feeling of wholeness.
The high point of the album, at least as far as I am concerned (my fellow writers will no doubt disagree), is the ridiculous ‘Perilous Love.’ It is one of the most perfectly over the top songs I have ever heard. The song is a cornucopia of vocal talent, showcasing an almost bluesy swagger in the verses, a Matt Bellamy-esque falsetto in the bridges, a straining uncontrollable build up in the pre-choruses, and some powerful belting in the choruses. The primary guitars hammer on in a heavy-handed but ultimately enjoyable march, the drums and bass push the song onward at an intentionally slow and savory pace, and the use of electronics is absolutely masterful. I love the staccato quarter notes, I love the tremolo picking slide guitar, I love the harmonies. I love it all, friends. I love it all. And it is exactly the kind of song that O’Brother could not have pulled off on their first record. It is the kind of song that walks the line between an overwrought cliché and an unforgettable fan favourite, and the fact that they managed to stay on the right side of that line shows the band’s maturity.
I can’t wait to see what they bring us next.
Grade: Thick and juicy goodness from one of the most talented bands of the post-hardcore scene
Banner image received from triplecrownrecords.com
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