I imagine that there are already people who adore the New Zealand-based group Opossom. I am not among those in this demographic.
It is important to note that (after the sixth or so listen to Electric Hawaii – and during a moment of raw boredom trying to muster a vocabulary to make sense of this album), I scoured the Internet to learn more about this band. After learning that Opossom is led by Kody Nielson, the brother of Ruben Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I very soon came across a YouTube video wherein the album’s title-track was playing over footage of the Earth taken from a camera aboard a space shuttle in orbit. One commenter (who goes by the handle “subliminaloats”) offered this tidbit in response: “life changing…” Perhaps this comment was submitted by an individual who had been deaf for fifty years and had only recently been given the gift of hearing through some miracle of science. Perhaps this individual was merely competing for the Most Stunningly Uninspired Hyperbole Ever Award. Regardless, the track is hardly “life changing…”
Perhaps I am being unnecessarily hard on this band. If anything, the instrumental title track – wait a second: can you even call a song “instrumental” if it is a minute-and-a-half of noise produced from a keyboard? – is a departure from the formula that is repeated throughout most of the record. For those of you interested, the formula for Electric Hawaii is as follows: snare drum, some ‘60s-sounding bass line, a keyboard melody here and there, and some half-sung lyrics that are largely unintelligible after being run through an unnecessary vocal processor. The first three tracks on the record (“Girl”, “Fly”, and “Blue Meanies”) follow this formula to a tee and ought to be celebrated for their consistency.
Critics have been regularly using the word “psychedelic” to describe the sounds of Opossom, but that term must be meaningless nowadays. Other than an intentional low-fi texture, there are very few elements on this record that recall the tones of Cream or Frank Zappa. In other words, the association with psychedelic doesn’t quite hit the mark. The only song that flirts with these sounds is the not-half-bad (but still far-from-great) “Cola Elixir”. The problem with the song (which is representative of the whole album) is that it doesn’t quite know where it wants to go. There are only flashes of promise.
Other songs on the album continue to prove that the low-fi aesthetic coupled with simple melodies simply doesn’t work. The verses of “Why Why” could stand in for a musical interlude on the 1960s television show Get Smart and the song suffers for it. In the end, the song winds up sounding more kitschy than serious (and strangely enough, a bit like something from Spinal Tap’s Brit-Pop period).
The album’s closing track, “Inhaler Song” invokes the kind of dissonant sludge reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine and early work from The Flaming Lips. It elicits a response, however, that is not nearly as life-affirming as either of those bands managed to offer throughout their catalogs. The song, which begins with pleasant enough lounge instrumentation (bassy piano and lagging percussion) winds up in a garbled mess that is, to be frank, painful to listen to. There are ways to manage dynamics from soft to chaotic, but there is much to be desired in managing the extremes on Electric Hawaii.