Tuesday, 23 December 2008

And Just Like That The Year Is Gone: 2008 / Ohana - Dead Beat

As much as I enjoy writing end-of-year lists and reading others', the end-of-year list is still, I would say, an awkward concept. For one, it seems pointless putting albums in exact numerical order - for all the importance I try to place on using your critical faculty, my mind doesn't quite work that way, and an action like deciding between my favourite albums of all time feels like choosing between my own children - so I'm deciding to do things a little bit differently here. The reason I set up this blog was to present people with good quality music where I assume the case is that they might not have heard of the band or album in question, and I'm sticking to that goal here. In an effort to keep things interesting, I'm largely omitting from my list albums that have already been hyped to death or that people will have already either heard or made their mind up on even before listening. That means sorry Bon Iver, Portishead, Fucked Up, Deerhunter and The Mars Volta, you've already had your fair share of coverage. I'm not placing things in strict numerical order either: the general trend will be that I'll work my way up and post my absolute favourites last, but the idea is mainly just to present a few records that I think have been particular musical highlights this year. And without further ado, I present you with the first record on this rundown:

Ohana - Dead Beat

As a very recent discovery this feels fitting to start with, although with more time and more spins it could end up a lot higher on the list. Ohana are/were a tight-as-hell post-hardcore outfit from Australia that, in true Refused fashion, just broke up straight after releasing a kickass record. Comparisons could be drawn to Off Minor, Unwound or Fugazi musically, particularly in the way the band write their music around tightly constructed grooves where all the instruments interlock perfectly. They make the most out of having two guitarists by building fascinating textures with their instruments: the tone of each instrument is clear and razor-sharp and the arrangements, while consistently complex, are never too dense, the band constantly allowing for clarity in their sound. An excellent example of this emphasis on texture can be found, for example, in the last minute of centrepiece 'The Birth of the Clinic' where the exclusive use of harmonics alternating between the guitars makes for something that sounds pretty unreal and really impressive. There are other great points where, perhaps, one guitar will be playing razor-sharp Drive Like Jehu-esque dissonant chords while the other will be playing minimalistic reverb-drenched riffs over the top, and the effect of the two working together is brilliant. It's also refreshing to see a band that draws as much attention to the bass and drums as their guitar players: Dead Beat sports some of my favourite basslines this side of Off Minor and some great, detailed drum playing. Ohana also show a tendency to drift towards minimalism and repetition in their work: however, it's always used as a way of subtly but powerfully keeping the music progressing forward and it makes for some of the album's most interesting moments. The best example of this is opener 'One On Four', which, though repeating some riffs for most of the song, constantly shifts and works towards a subtle climax. For a more obvious build towards an emotional climax, look no further than 'The Birth of the Clinic', which gains tension as it goes along, only for it to be released in a sparse yet cathartic vocal-and-drums section at the end. It's a real highlight, although you'd be hard pressed to find a moment on Dead Beat which is less than enjoyable, as it really is one fantastic moment after another. The record is never boring, wisely clocking out at 26 minutes, leaving you reaching for the repeat button. The vocal performance is also of note: lyrically, the album is intelligent and emotionally loaded, while the angry shouts and yelps of the singer are, once in a while, replaced by a bizarrely effective use of the voice as a melodic, wordless instrument, singing melodies that interweave with the guitar lines. Another great thing about the vocalist, of course, is that he knows when to shut up and let the instruments do the talking, a crucial awareness of space that some bands in the genre lack. Perhaps it's time that I shut up and let the music do the talking too: what you really need to know is that Dead Beat is a stunningly tight, intelligent and enjoyable record that is one of the finest examples of post-hardcore in recent times.

Ohana - Dead Beat

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