Oh No Ono are a Danish five-piece who have enjoyed much acclaim in their land since their formation in 2003. They’re now making the transition onto the international stage with this, their second full-length album, recorded in a small country house on a Danish island called Mon over the course of nine months in 2009.
This is one of those albums that takes quite some listening before it can even begin to become assimilated. On its first few outings, the twists and turns can leave a listener bemused and not a little disorientated; a difficulty that doesn’t completely resolve itself even after several run-throughs. Some songs are almost like compressed, self-contained mini-operettas in themselves, such are the twists, turns, and flips of pace, time signature, key and melody that they execute – at best with a wonderful heedless effortlessness.
Internet Warrior is a good example (and one of the strongest tracks): exuberant, psychedelic and whimsical. The risk that this approach takes, of course, is of tipping over the line into “wacky” territory and at times there is indeed a sense of everything bar the kitchen sink simply being thrown in for good measure. The resultant mishmash, as found on Icicles, say, or the overlong final track Beelitz, can be a little wearisome.
The diversity and range of styles deployed can be seen by the variety in influences or references to other bands that can be picked out. Opener Eleanor Speaks takes in both Kula Shaker (all cod Eastern sitar sounds) and The Beloved‘s Hello; Swim has the drama and drum beats of a Phil Spector production; the vocal on Internet Warrior recalls Xiu Xiu; while Helplessly Young and Beelitz both feature Animal Collective doing Beach Boys moments. The Beatles are a key thread, identifiable in Eleanor Speaks (perhaps a kinder way to describe it would be as George Harrison-like), the trumpet flourishes on Icicles, and the “fool on the hill” lyric in Miss Miss Moss.
Another recurring theme is birdsong, which features on the first three tracks, culminating in the gentle coo-ing of doves on Internet Warrior. More abrasively, wolves can be heard howling atmospherically to the moon later on in the album on The Tea Party.
Somehow, all this variety works well more often than not. The best tracks here – the aforementioned Internet Warrior (which shares a significant proportion of DNA with Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody), Swim (expansive and lush, with a hypnotic tune and vocal), Helplessly Young, and The Tea Party (synthesied vocals, galloping beat, appealing sense of wide-eyed wonder) – succeed above and beyond the sum of their parts to bring together something with a deep and compelling appeal.
Accompanying the physical copy of the album is a booklet of extraordinary artwork – surreal and erotic collages, many of them half human half animal, which lend an extra dimension to the music. An online copy is also available for those who just bought the download, showing that the band consider the visuals to be an integral part of the album. Whether the perusal of these pictures while listening to the music will clarify or, as seems more likely, further pleasantly befuddle the listener is a moot point. Either way though, the experience is likely to be a mind-stretching and fascinating one.