Have you ever watched a talent show or a TV program in which you felt so embarrassed for the act you were watching that you had to turn away or change the channel? Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I listened to Yorkville, Illinois’ very own Oval-Teen and their latest release, A Million Shades of Oval-Teen. Simply put, this is some tough listening.
Their press release points out their “trademarked hand claps and vocal harmonies”, but to be honest, a lot of the problems surrounding this album lie within those harmonies themselves. Maybe it’s just me, but Mr. Bradley Davis (guitar and vocals), Joseph Chellino (drums and vocals), and Jeremiah Wallis (bass and vocals) are no Beach Boys. Right from the first track “Shooting Sugar at the Stars”, one can easily detect something has gone awry as the trio tries to reach for notes that they just cannot grasp together. Unfortunately, their voices aren’t the only things out of tune here. The guitar in “Numbered and Few” should have been run through a tuner before the tape started rolling.
The production manages to mar the album even further. I don’t mind lo-fi, but this is about as low as it gets. Backing vocals and tambourines are recorded so poorly in parts that you can barely hear them. On top of that, some of the songs’ arrangements fall straight through the cracks as well. One listen to the off-kilter “Ooh Baby Baby (It’s You Baby Baby)”, and the fact that these guys can’t play or sing that well really hits home.
There are parts to this album which desperately want to work, such as the piano in “Numbered and Few”, as well as bits of “Oh, Natalie” and “Lemon Cakes and Chocolate Shakes”, but those moments are few and far between. Instead of standing out, these bits are often left in the wake of such bad lyrics as “I would sell my guitar just to see you smile / Break my amp just to hold you close for awhile” (from “Flying Silver Rocket Ships”). They are eventually completely destroyed when a tone-deaf falsetto breaks out in “A Million Shades”.
There’s really not a lot to recommend here over the course of A Million Shades’ 14 tracks. After listening to the album multiple times to make sure it wasn’t just me and give it a better chance, I still came up empty. Having visited the band’s website, I got the impression that MOC Records has been delaying the release of the album for a while. Perhaps they got the same impression that I did from listening to it. Whatever the case may be, Oval-Teen certainly has an expansive discography and I would suppose a local fan base to support them. I, however, wasn’t won over by the group this time around. Perhaps next time they will record something, if not a bit more professional, then at least a bit more listenable.