O’Brother – Garden Window
Holy f**king s**t! These, along with a few other unmentionable expressions, were the only words that initially came to mind when attempting to explain the auditory and physical impact O’Brother’s music makes both on record and live. Over the next few paragraphs, I’ll try and compose myself enough to elaborate on those preliminary feelings.
In a (permissible) word: Garden Window is a behemoth. Be forewarned: Do NOT come into this album expecting to be able to digest it in a couple listens. Rather, that undertaking would do an injustice to an album that gives you such an exorbitant amount of elements to mull over. While I would venture to brand their overall sound as loud, bludgeoning rock, they should never be mistaken for a one-trick pony. The album showcases a myriad of influences beginning with the sludgy opener ‘Malum’ to the dreamy soundscapes of ‘Bear.’ The album’s dichotomies are personified by its centerpiece: the two-part ‘Machines’ suite. Both claustrophobic (Part I) and liberating (Part II) all while never allowing you to rest in either realm for too long.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can bestow on O’Brother though is how well they tie together 63 minutes of such disparate music. Each tracks flows seamlessly into the next yet at the same time jarring you back from any meandering meditations with each transition. While some may call such a large release excessive, the band repeatedly pays off any doubts. While ‘Lay Down’ could have easily ended with Tanner Merritt’s words “so I’ll lay down and begin to grow right beneath your garden window,” the band rises to epic heights with a crushing display of power before shifting into the ethereal ‘Easy Talk.’
With all of this knowledge, I felt running Garden Window on an uninterrupted loop for a week prior to the seeing them live might have prepared me but… oh, was I wrong. The sheer brute force and power with which “Machines Part I” hits you on record pales in comparison to the intensity the band — Merritt(vocals/guitar), Johnny Dang (guitar), Aaron Wamack (guitar, aux percussion), Anton Dang (bass), and Michael Martens (drums) — displays on stage. The intensity, force and what could be misconstrued for contempt for his kit that Martens plays with radiated throughout the venue while the triple guitar onslaught of Tanner, Aaron and Johnny left you gasping for air. The sight of the Dang brothers whipping their hair around with reckless abandon harkens back to days of metal past. While taking nothing from what the other 4 members bring to the table, the mere vision of Merritt as he delivers lines like “trade living for a living / measure your worth in flesh and blood.” From ‘Machines Part I’ or “Abba father are you sleeping as we toil through your gardens keeping?” from ‘Lay Down’ leave you in awe.
As my fiancé, who joined me for the night’s festivities, stated, our collective jaw dropped from the first words uttered and we were physical incapable of picking it up until the last chords had left the air. While this sensation applies most appropriately to the live show, it would find favor in describing the album as well. Both are draining experiences… yes, that’s the right word: experience. On wax and on stage, O’Brother will leave you weary but full-well knowing they wanted it that way as they create a world all their own in both arenas.— Matt Zimmerman, 11/23/2011