As a new major label rock act given the opportunity to record and release a second album, Sacramento-based Oleander is something of a rarity these days. Of course, selling half a million copies of its debut record, February Son, went a long way to assuaging the bean counters and convincing the record company to keep the finger from twitching on the “dropped” button.
The pressure is therefore on with the group’s follow up record, Unwind, to see if the so-called second album syndrome that afflicts so many bands will make that debut album success seem like a very distant memory.
On this evidence Oleander shouldn’t have a problem, as Unwind is an extremely solid and enjoyable album that serves as an antidote to some of the more polished and considered modern rock being released these days. It is also a much more mature and well-written effort than February Son, displaying a pleasing balance between full-on rock tendencies and more subtle but no less powerful moments.
The first single “Are You There” should please the alt-rock fraternity with its screeching intro and bruising riff together with a groovy, extremely melodic edge. Vocalist Thomas Flowers belts out the songs with an arena rock mix of aggression and subtlety, as he demonstrates on the delicate “Halo”, which makes clever use of strings to add an extra atmosphere and could be another single contender.
This softer underbelly of the band is also seen on the superb closing track, “Champion”, but make no mistake, since most of this album is filled with a number of impressive rockers, Oleander has no pretensions to be the next Vertical Horizon. The best of these is the chugging opener “Come to Stay” or the pop sensibilities of “Back Home Years Ago”, but “She’s up She’s Down” and the throbbing power of the title track are head-turners too.
Producer Rick Mouser and mixer Andy Wallace really fill out the band’s sound and harness all their energy in the right direction, and this really comes across on the album’s standout song, “Benign”. A funky ‘70s riff in the verse collides with a gargantuan chorus, and there’s no doubt this song could be all over rock radio if given a chance.
This is a very promising record from a very promising band, and deserves to better the success of its predecessor by some margin. Whether it does or not, and indeed whether the band manages to make a third album, remains to be seen.