Oh No Oh My - People Problems Album Review
Travis Morrison, the frontman with influential indie types The Dismemberment Plan, once gave an entertaining interview in which he attributed his band's transition from confrontational punk oddballs into mature rockers to a tale a friend once told him. Said friend was having sex with girlfriend when an early D-Plan song began playing: 'the record started, and it just completely ruined everything, they had to stop, and he had to like, lunge for the stop button, because there's like this chattering, yammering, shrieking out thing over in the corner from the box'. It's doubtful that Texas fourpiece Oh No Oh My's decision to change direction and adopt a more melancholy, self-consciously 'adult' sound on their new record was inspired by a similarly dramatic epiphany, but Morrison's words of praise for carefully considered, restrained music could easily be applied to People Problems: 'they have much more carefully modulated dynamics, they tend, whatever the dynamics are they're not trying to beat you over the head with a point. They're trying to provide a space you can kind of enter and roam around a little bit'.
Oh No Oh My have embraced a number of changes, from dropping the exclamation marks in their name (they used to be called 'Oh No! Oh My!') to writing lyrics about car crashes and the alleged emptiness of life and thus upping the degree of melancholy in their songs by a factor of lots. The results are interesting and quietly enjoyable, without ever quite managing to be more than that. There's certainly plenty of space for the listener to roam around in - songs develop slowly and unobtrusively, building around soft guitar melodies and vulnerable vocals, which on tracks like the opening 'Walking Into Me' clash subtly but pleasingly with a surprisingly energetically keyboard sound. There's a good deal of craft and technical ability on show - the band are all talented multi-instrumentalists, and it shows in little touches, the brief solos and unexpected flourishes. This isn't an uptight muso's album, however; the group also know how to write a catchy song, as songs like the strolling, keyboard-driven 'No Time For Talk' demonstrate. The album's other strength is the manner in which this ability to write memorable melodies clashes with their lyrical subject manner, as it does on 'Again Again' ('I will sing until the mistake reaches fingers down my throat') and 'There Will Be Bones' (I see a femur/I see a sternum/I see you as God on the table').
Despite all these strengths, the album isn't an unqualified success; at times the group's desire to give the listener space to roam seems to cause them to reign in their pop instincts a little too much, and partly as a result there's nothing here so naggingly insistent you'll be singing it afterwards. They're catchy, but only up to a point. As a result, mainstream success will probably elude them for the moment, but fans of understated indie-pop will find something to enjoy here.