The indie rock band’s “token-girl” is at this point a laughable cliché. Yet at the core of this banality is a talented musician whose musicianship is put under erasure. She is, after all, a perfunctory nod towards gender equality. But being the auxiliary musical component wasn’t good enough for Micaela Adams (percussion), Andrea Gutmann-Fuentes (violin), Spencer Peppet (guitar/lyrics), and Grace Weir (bass). Together they realigned the audience’s gaze and formed the Cincinnati-based band the Ophelias. Their sophomore LP Almost, released from Joyful Noise Recordings, is nonconforming art-pop that features creative interplays between the instrumentation and lyrics. Despite prosy vocals, the Ophelias’ Almost is a balanced and enraptured album.
Almost centralizes the anguish and discomfiture of ‘almost’ being an adult. The opening track “Fog”, casts a poignant example of confusion and misery as reinforced by naturalistic imagery: “Mist on the grass and tears on your hands / Look up at the moon and / Let it consume you / Weighing the scales at the way that we once felt.” “Moon Like Sour Candy” mentions disingenuous relationships and the commonality of “You can only like me when you’re drunk.” “Bird” musically captures ghosting and the uncertainty caused by “existing in radio silence”. So many of their songs perfectly illustrate adolescents’ awkward insecurity and that undefinable space between child and adulthood. However, the focus on pother and perplexity is overemphasized. On the one hand, the irreverent lyrics lend themselves to the album’s playfulness. Yet on the other, they miss the opportunity to deconstruct larger social topics including gender issues, which was the catalyst for the band’s formation.
The Ophelias’ sound on Almost is more complex and cultivated than their previous release, finding influences in indie rock, folk, and some riot grrl music. On “Zero” Adam’s cacophonous drums, Peppet’s guitar, and Weir’s bass combine to create a riotous echo of female-led groups such as Bikini Kill or the Roches. Yet perhaps the closest genre is baroque pop, a fusion rock music and certain classical elements. The track “Night Signs” hears the long swoons of Gutmann-Fuentes’ violin underscored by Weir’s bass. Additionally, “O Command” features Gutmann-Fuentes’ strings which channel Aaron Copland’s use of atonality. Using bells also gives the track a bemused vibe. Yet unlike baroque pop, the Ophelias rely on keyboards and a vox to mimic elements of chamber music rather than utilizing the traditional instruments. In doing so, they redefine the genre by their own distinct musical terms.
Almost conveys a sense of collaboration as each of the band members’ musical contributions is authenticated. For example, on “Lover’s Creep”, Peppet’s vocals are vulnerable and empowered. As soon as she takes a breath, Gutmann-Fuentes’ violin picks up the harmony line and reiterates then develops Peppet’s vocals. “General Electric” further showcases their musical union, as Adam’s drums and Weir’s bass create a cohesive attack under Peppet’s guitar and Gutmann-Fuentes’ titillating keyboarding. Likewise, “Lunar Rover” lyrically depicts a strong-bonded relationship between women. This type of cohesion makes sense. The Ophelias are “the class of 2015 calling” as they formed in high school and have been fine-tuning their sound since graduation.
Yet Almost lacks in vocal innovation. Peppet’s voice at times seems monotone and the singer infrequently experiments with timbre or pitch. In fact, there is almost no vocal range. The vocal innovation comes from the distortion and harmonic layering that begins to seem over processed at the album’s halfway point. The exception being “House” that features the production of a polyphonic sound from Peppet’s singular vocal line. The track elicits an interesting far-off howl that summons vocal venturing, but it’s short-lived, distant, and heavily anamorphic. For an album that is lyrically and instrumentally dynamic, the impassive vocals are a misfire.
The Ophelias’ lyrics are at times impassioned, but the vocals are banal. Yet the maturity that arises from their individual and musical self-actualization carries Almost. Musically, the Ophelias use of experimentation renders a sharp and penetrating sound. This is their attempt to reappropriate and fortify the Shakespearean character’s name. Whereas the character Ophelia allowed those around her to define her identity, the Ophelias control their musical agency. The Ophelias are more than a token girl band: they are a group who define their own creative individuality within the indie scene.