The great american screenwriter William Goldman once famously quipped that, as far as the movie trade went, “no-one knows anything”.
I often wonder if Goldman had been secretly studying indie labels’ A&R men, as the rapid rise of psych-folk bands like Animal Collective and solo acts like Devendra Benhart, and their appearance on the grubby screens of snot-faced youths’ iPods can only really be explained if, well, ‘no-one knows anything’.
But like it or not – ‘New Weird America’, or whatever The Wire have decided to call it this week, is a bona fide movement. And, like any movement, you have leaders, and you have followers. O’Death, bless them, aren’t even followers, instead having been swept along by the great heave of public opinion, snapped up when the swingometer went from ‘college crewcut’ to ‘weirdy-beardy’.
I make this rather sweeping statement because, while they look like they’ve just stumbled out of a Salvation Army Shelter, O’Death play it pretty straight. A five piece based in New York, Head Home is their second album, and, while being perfectly agreeable, just isn’t unique enough to stand out from the crowd. O’Death play with Southern Baptist passion, but you just can’t shake the feeling that they’re sucking down Mocha Frappacinos when they down instruments for the day, instead of knocking down Granpappy’s rotgut.
This dissonance between the music and the band is everything when you’re playing songs that spit and crackle like punked-up Appalachian Folk songs. It’s just all too rep theatre for me; songs like Down To Rest and Allie Mae Reynolds are fun, sure, but sound like vegan versions of the true country meat they’re meant to resemble.
However, when things are slowed down a bit and the band stop trying to provide the soundtrack to speaking in tongues at an Episcopalian revival meeting, they manage to shine. Travelin Man is cracked and sad, Jesus Look Down sweeps by on waves of violins, and Nathaniel drips with glorious menace, even if it does go a bit bluegrass at the end. A band to catch live, then, rather than cherish at home.