[27 January 2010]
If Oh No Ono have a specialty, it is the curveball. Their debut album Yes instilled in listeners the security of a familiar-sounding synth-funk, only to jolt them instants later with arpeggios worthy of Rachmaninoff.
Sophomore effort Eggs is no less confounding, harbouring as many surprises as a Marcus Harvey mosaic if it were actually constructed by Escher. The Danish quintet bears no qualms about recording in unorthodox places, including churches, forests, beaches and abandoned warehouses. They respect song structures as much as Sparks did and display the kind of experimental tendency that made Dirty Projectors worthy of cult worship. Their produce is luxuriously layered with supple ‘60s harmonies, Animal Collective-style freak psychedelic moments, musique concrete, operatic curlicues and distorted orchestral swoons. Vocals are heavily treated, sometimes as if with helium.
Single “Internet Warrior” would be what Neon Indian sounded like if they were running on high octane; its fey, otherworldly vocals disturbed by a kaleidoscopic miasma of melodic sparks, backward loops and strings as chewy as toffee. However, thanks to a megawatt rock undertow, it’s not entirely airhead music either. “Eleanor Sparks”, meanwhile, is a mini-opera that sounds like Electric light Orchestra fronted by a sitar-loving George Harrison and LSD-munching Syd Barrett. The band’s everything-but-the-sink mentality is on full display here with a clavichord, tape loops, strings and phantasmic vocals thrown in. Even though the melody is diced and spliced, there’s still room for a mini interlude in which singer Aske Zidore (or is it Malthe Fischer?) sounds like he’s several leagues under the sea in a spaceship. “Icicles”, another operetta, jumps out like a 3D movie, its cast of Queen-like vocals coming at you front, left and centre while rallying with a tooting trumpet swiped from the Beatles.
If “whimsical” tips easily into “freaky”, it’s understandable that Eggs doesn’t always offer that spinning-in-teacups-on-acid kind of fun. “Swim” features a Pitchfork-approved Adam Hashemi-directed video that sends up a child’s lust to the death of his object of affection (a nurse, naturally). Meanwhile, the song itself bears the kind of funhouse eeriness that would find a natural outlet in a David Lynch film. Just imagine its echo-drenched helium-filled chorus sung by a bevy of dwarfs and oddballs.
Even when it slides and swivels to defy all definition, Eggs can be remarkably engaging if given the chance of repeat listens. For instance, the delicate balance of majesty and wooziness, boldness and subtlety of “Internet Warrior” is not immediately apparent. “Eleanor Sparks”, which may initially come off as a raving mess eventually betrays a deft arrangement that, despite its flamboyance, can be hummable. The sung-while-snorkling singalongs of “The Tea Party” may be too treacle for some tastes, but it’s hard to be unbeguiled by the song’s blend of Pet Shop Boys and the disco groove off Strictly Ballroom’s “Love Is in the Air”.
Mercifully, there are moments on Eggs that offer some respite from the razzmatazz. “Helplessly Young” is a fairly standard garage rock song that bears the ebullience of the Ramones and a bassline redolent of that on Blur’s “Coffee and TV”. But thanks to the nasal aspect of the lead vocalist, the song could have been produced by Empire of the Sun if they had chosen CBGB over the Galactic Empire. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Even after repeat listens, though, Eggs can still grate. The ten-minute duration of “Beelitz” chimes well with the grand designs of the LP (which includes a 20-page booklet of surreal and sexually disturbing imagery) but its lack of discernable plot, exacerbated by mumbled vocals, and a vexing piano accompaniment that churns on amid the thunderous drums and cinematic strings will test even the best of us. Which is too bad because around the six minute mark, when you’ve already given up, the sky opens to reveal a lulling child-like solo that then fades into a three minute stretch of near silence. On Eggs, it’s a dollop of bliss as precious as desert rain.
It needn’t be said that coming from a country that has long been associated with death metal and Alphabeat, Oh No Ono are something else entirely—a pleasant curveball if there ever was one. The release of Eggs on the Leaf Label (UK) and Friendly Fire (US) sees them catapulting into international waters. And in a climate that has made stars out of Flaming Lips and MGMT, there is every reason to believe Oh No Ono will float.