Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Record review: Oshwa - 'Chamomile Crush'

By Gene Wagendorf III   

A year or so back I caught Oshwa at now-defunct Humboldt DIY space The Whip, performing a set of acoustic odd-pop as a two-piece. Playing at half-strength in a basement with questionable acoustics, the band still managed to make a hell of an impression. The fractured melodies, offbeat timing and the big voice of singer Alicia Walter pulled me in, gave me something to mentally bookmark. Then, some months back, the band released a video for "Old Man Skies," which knocked my fucking socks off. I almost couldn't believe it was the same band. Gone was any of the timid discombobulation that was present at The Whip. The song was certainly fragile, but confident; a genre-bending, crisp and magical composition that I simply could not stop listening to. It was the first track released from Chamomile Crush, and with that the waiting game was on. The full record sees its release on Naked Ally Records Thursday, August 8th, and it more than delivers on the promise of "Old Man Skies."

One of Chamomile Crush's real strengths is its patience. Oshwa slowly builds the mood in opening track "Corner Store Dinosaur," tip-toeing across a minute and a half with slivers of bright guitar work and mesmerizingly escalating vocals. When the plump bass and drums of "Old Man Skies" interrupt the meditation things begin to really take off, even while maintaining a thoughtful, deliberate pace. Guitars flitter about, matched in curiosity and elegance by Walter's dynamic vocals. She croons, she howls, she cries; all while the rest of the band swirls and bends around her. The sounds are organic, steeped in folk, pop and jazz, but they combine for something almost extraterrestrial. When Michael MacDonald's warm voice steps in on "Baraboo" there's a moment where more conventional balladeering seems on the horizon. Instead the chords zip upwards while tandem vocals navigate a salacious percussive rumble. As strong as both singers are on Crush, they don't entirely steal the show. That's a credit to bassist Matthew Noonan and drummer Jordan Tate, whose rhythm section is an equally important part of Oshwa's overall sound. "Suburban Pining" finds that half of the group bubbling in and out at all the right moments, crafting seductive tension and keeping the listener on their toes.

On an album ripe with blissful melodies, "Gumby" may be the one that stands out most. A string composition that wraps up in less than a minute, the song's brevity is its biggest strength and also the record's only frustrating moment. Noonan rolls beneath weaves of illuminated guitar to craft Crush's most magnetic spell- one that feels satisfying and yet a little under-explored. The album's title track comes close to "Gumby's" hypnotic grace, adding in smartly-restrained drumming and more of Walter's vocal acrobatics. Just as the tune begins to feel a bit overextended, Oshwa switches gears, tumbling along towards its playful, almost tropical conclusion. Again showing their versatility, Oshwa follow that with "Emily," a somber folk song accented by lush strings and Walter's grittiest vocals. The track builds an exotic sorrow comparable to some of Nico's most engaging work, but does so without every getting painfully dreary.

While Chamomile Crush isn't Oshwa's debut (they've been self-releasing music since 2011) it is both their most sophisticated work to-date and a record that should get them plenty of attention. The work the band has put in to both developing their sound and their musicianship pays off through all ten tracks, and each player is so right in their roles that repeat listens just grow more and more enjoyable. If god is in the details then it's no wonder Oshwa's attention to each note and beat has produced this kind of angelic listening experience.

Oshwa's 'Chamomile Crush' is set for release on Thusday, August 8th on Naked Ally Records. You can pre-order a copy on vinyl and CD here or via digital download here. Oshwa will celebrate the record's release at a show on Thursday, August 8th at Quenchers (9pm, 21+, $5). WCR favorites Shiloh also play. Until then, check out "Old Man Skies" streaming below.

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