Mention OK Go to most music sorts in the know and the first thing that comes to mind is the Los Angeles-based band’s unique videos. While the alternative four-piece have never exactly set the world alight with their tightly constructed pop rock tracks, they have always produced videos that have attracted millions of views. In fact, the popularity of the video for 2006‘s Here It Goes Again led to it becoming a viral sensation before “going viral” was really a thing.
The band’s ability to create inventive, well choreographed videos extends to the first two singles from their new album, Hungry Ghosts, with the videos for both The Writing’s On The Wall and I Won’t Let You Down delivering once again. Yet while their videos remain as quirky and innovative as ever, much has changed in the world of OK Go since the release of 2010’s Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky.
Perhaps the most significant development in those four years was the band’s decision to split from major label Capitol and set up their own independent label, Paracadute. This move subsequently paved the way for the quartet to take their music in a completely new direction and also look at new methods of distribution – making their fourth album available for pre-order on the direct-to-fan platform, PledgeMusic.
As a result, Hungry Ghosts is somewhat of a departure for OK Go stylistically, with the band drawing on electronic influences far more than they have done previously. This is hammered home by opening track Upside Down & Inside Out, which is characterised by bold, lurching synths and frontman Damian Kulash’s strange glitchy vocals on the infectious chorus.
Ignoring its creative video – where the band’s four members use props to create optical illusions – lead single The Writing’s On The Wall is a much gentler introduction to OK Go’s new direction, with the song consisting largely of two heavily distorted bass guitars and drums. The same can also be said of the disco-influenced second single I Won’t Let You Down, which is unquestionably the catchiest song on the record.
However, it is outside those first two singles where things really start to get interesting. The band – complete with their freshly acquired independence – have clearly set out to test the perception that they are just a ‘music video band’. Take Another Set Of Issues, where Kulash’s falsetto takes centre stage on a song that relies heavily on a rumbling synth bass, while Obsession is another slow, slinky number that is awash with murky synth beats and distorted guitar riffs.
The big sing-a-long choruses that marked the band’s earlier efforts are less prominent on Hungry Ghosts, with tracks such as I’m Not Through and If I Had A Mountain demonstrating a great deal of restraint. Although neither song is particularly memorable, the former still possesses a simple melody that carries it along with sweet abandonment. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Bright As Your Eyes, which is just plainly dull.
Where the album really comes unstuck, though, is on the cheesy synth rockers Turn Up The Radio and The One Moment. Both tracks see the band attempt to up the ante with big, searching choruses, but the results – especially in the case of The One Moment – just sound forced and rather unremarkable compared to the much more enjoyable singles.
Overall, Hungry Ghosts is an interesting addition to OK Go’s previous catalogue of work. It is certainly their most experimental record, yet it also benefits from being more focused and purposeful than the inconsistent Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky. Hungry Ghosts may not completely put a stop OK Go being viewed as the band ‘with the cool videos’, but it does confirm that their ability to surprise is not just confined to the visual medium.