Music

Odeath: Head Home

Blog favs O'Death re-release their debut album chock full of Appalachian nostalgia.


O'Death

Head Home

Label: Ernest Jenning
US Release Date: 2007-06-12
UK Release Date: 2007-08-06
Amazon
iTunes

If you read any of those ubiquitous music blogs, you've probably already heard O'Death described as a group of college grads who duplicate dirty Appalachian jug band music. The band has been playing gigs around New York (via SUNY Purchase) for the past few years and have created some buzz with their banjos, beards, fiddles, and lack of T-shirts. You can call me a cynic, but I tend to get a bit skeptical when a bunch of dudes get on stage for a good ol' hootenannie hoe down -- in Brooklyn. It's not that BK hasn't seen its share of transplant musicians who deal in country, delta blues, and a host of other throwback musical genres (Williamsburg's Pete's Candy Store is just one venue which hosts these musicians daily). Most of these acts ooze sincerity and exhibit an adequate dose of talent, but the O'Death approach seems a bit contrived. They seem to embody the jug band farce of suburban kids dressing as 19th Century beet farmers. (Perhaps a good example of this is how their manic live shows sometimes feature a cover of the Pixies' "Nimrod's Son" -- the circular nature is laughably ironic.)

O'Death's live shows do display something of a carnival atmosphere; their rambunctious attitude and makeshift instruments contribute to a degree of exuberance and originality. And lead singer/guitarist Greg Jamie has been described as having a Tom Waits-like croak. However, with Waits references thrown around with any warbly-voiced singer, I'd be more apt to describe Jamie as an aged Kermit the Frog, playing a rusty banjo and singing "Songs About Rainbows" through a bourbon-and-tabacco-stained larynx. His voice is truly grating, completing O'Death's assumed Mountain Man mystique. Back-up vocalist Gabe Darling provides a deep baritone to harmonize with Jamie's shrieking yowls, but its simply not enough to temper Jamie's abrasive vocals.

Bob Pycior's fiddle and Gabe Darling's banjo drive most of these songs, such as "Adelita", which is punctuated by a rollicking drumbeat at the song's end, and the happy-go-lucky hoedown "All the World". Croaky Jamie attempts some melancholia on the banjo lament "Travelin' Man" -- "Although I'm just a travelin' man / Got nobody left to call me friend". The song works well as a tear-jerker, and O'Death should try this approach more often, as its sincere lines serve as believable fodder among a wealth of questionable material. "Rickety Fence Teeth" shows off O'Death's jug band inclinations as a host of makeshift instruments are used in place of percussion -- in this case Tom Waits would be proud. Jangly chains, cans, and bucket bass provide the backdrop for Jamie's distant squeals and a sloppily plucked banjo. "Allie Mae Reynolds" is an absolute hootananie stomp, complete with tin can percussion. The band returns to sincerity with "Jesus Look Down", this time leaning towards folk as the abrasive singer pleads for Jesus to "Look down on me / Tell me my faults". You didn't think we'd get through this album without a religious reference, did you?

All in all, O'Death's Head Home is certainly enjoyable, and their live shows are definitely a riot. But I can't help thinking the band is not much more than a novelty act -- trust-funders posing as mountain moles. In an interview with Gothamist, O'Death drummer David Rogers-Berry spoke about gentrification in Brooklyn: "I could talk shit about gentrification, but I'm not from NY. I'm also a white college graduate, so I'd just be another hypocrite if i pretended I'm not contributing to gentrification." I tend to disagree. One would think a bunch of dirty white dudes who look like they crawled out of a mining shaft in 1915 would be more likely to bring the property value down rather than contribute to its increase. But, then again, maybe they dress differently for their day jobs.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image