Some of the year's best guitar rock, straight out of the garage.
Fuzz is a deadly weapon. We’ve know this since The Melvins coated their guitars with that sludgy mess that acted as its own instrument. Using that extra layer of haze has gone in and out of popularity in the mainstream, waxing and waning as bands like Nirvana came and went. There has been a bit of resurgence in the last few years with garage bands putting out proper full length albums filled with fuzz. The most notable came from Cloud Nothings and Yuck. Both of these bands created their own versions of lo-fi rock, Cloud Nothings relying on excellent guitar lines and wailed vocals, while Yuck took a more slouchy approach, combining mellow singing and a slacker attitude for their debut album. Though both of these bands found critical acclaim, I found myself asking if there was a band that landed between these two spectra, not rage shaped nor filled with lazy sighs.
Ovlov is a Connecticut band made of three brothers who share a healthy obsession with '90s era lo-fi heroes like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement with a hearty appreciation of Sonic Youth. While the set up sounds like the formula for the standard garage album, Ovlov are good enough musicians to be completely comfortable tinkering with the norm and they are the very loud “YES” to my question.
It should be obvious from the start of am that every member of Ovlov is quite talented. Steven Harrlet’s guitar work is never less than superb while his brother Jon drives the quicker songs at a bouncy clip on his bass. There’s a certain joy that Theo Harrlet brings to his drum work; it really does sound like some kid having a blast on his kit in his room, albeit with a great band surrounding him and some complex patterns well out of range for most budding drum stars.vThe chemistry that the brothers bring is impressive as well. They share a bond beyond just genetics; they all hold a musical tie to each other that plays out in stunning ways in the dynamics of the songs.
am is a dynamic album, not just in the way that the guitars punch you in the gut, but how the band is able to weave its way through an impressive range of volumes. The warm and laid back rock of “Grapes” runs into the smashing intro of “The Well”. The album's most energetic cut, the infectious and blindingly quick “Really Bees” is immediately followed by one of the more contemplative songs “Moth Rock.” The album's most stunning build up comes from “Blue Baby” which begins with a comforting guitar line before the high frequencies seep in and the rhythm section lays down a steady beat. Ovlov take their sweet time with the crescendo before exploding into a sweeping rocker and one of the album’s high points.
It’s not all fuzzy glory, unfortunately. The album is stream lined and lean but two songs stick out like sore thumbs. “There’s My Dini!” despite a crunchy riff is hindered by annoying and only semi-coherent vocals. Closer “The Great Alligator” feels redundant and doesn’t bring much to the album while lasting for nearly seven minutes. Neither song is terrible; they simply just aren’t up to the same standard as the rest of the album.
Thankfully for straight up rock excellence am is one of the most surprisingly great albums of the year. The slashing guitar riff “Nu Punk” is liable to cause scars and the chorus is one mosh ready monster. “Milk” is up to the same fantastic standard and is a road-trip anthem with its blistering tone and energy infused post-chorus. With songs like this you have to wonder; if they’re already making some of the best rock tracks of the year, where will they go after this debut?