OU – One

Posted: 24 May 2022 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

InsideOut Music – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s been a lot of beefing and bitching about ‘authentic’ indie bands and labels in circulation of late, particularly about bands who have been blasted into the collective conscious seemingly overnight and questions being asked of their ‘indie’ credibility.’ The sceptics question, ‘how can a band go from nowhere, not even a handful of local gigs, to emerging, fully-formed on a national level? Surely there must be finance and machinations behind the scenes?’ Every story is different, of course: Benefits have truly emerged – against the odds – by sheer hard work and grass-roots support via word-of-mouth promotion. The Lovely Eggs have done it 100% DIY, but it’s taken forever for them to achieve the cult status they now have that means they can sell out 50-capacity venues. Wet Leg got snapped up by a large-scale independent label early on, because it happens, just as historically bands would send a demo to a major label and get signed for big money by some A&R dude seeking to be the one who discovered the next big thing (but for every five hundred bands signed, only a handful would even release a single before being dropped). And so it was that Royal Blood weren’t quite the from-the—bottom grafters they may seem, and even Arctic Monkeys weren’t purely word of mouth viral in their ascendency, despite their legend. But is it fair to begrudge bands reaching the audience they deserve? So many great bands have failed to make an impression simply because they’ve not had the backing or exposure required to puh them up to the next echelon.

And what of labels being acquired by majors? Is that selling out? Not necessarily: it depends on the deal, and more than an independent brewery being bought up necessarily means its beer will be brewed under license elsewhere and become more supermarket piss. So InsideOut may be owned by Sony, but they’re seemingly left to do what they do as a channel for all things prog, while benefiting from major-label funding and distribution, which is a win for all concerned.

It’s highly unlikely that Sony would have picked up and given a home to the debut album from Chinese purveyors of progressive metal, OU. Not because it isn’t any good – it is – it’s just a long way from being overtly commercial, and all the better for it, of course.

One of the reasons it’s so far from having mass appeal is because it’s simply too ‘different’. ‘Travel’, the first song of the eight, has many elements of electropop and the darker side of 80s chart rock, but the vocals are bombastic, soaring, everything all at once, incorporating the quirkiness of Bjork with choral stylings and flying at times completely over the top, and the song’s unpredictable structure sees the segments shop and change in a blink. You need hooks to get on the radio, not oddball noodling shit like ‘Farewell’, where Lunn Wu sounds like she’s possessed by the spirit of Billy MacKenzie fronting Evanescence covering Captain Beefheart in a technical metal style. Or a drum ‘n’ bass take on Yes’ back catalogue. Or something. Point is, there’s a hell of a lot happening either all at once or in rapid succession, and it’s a lot to take in, and sometimes it’s too much.

It’s very much the kind of prog that blends math rock and jazz to froth up something that’s busy, to the point of being dizzying. There are some decent tunes and pleasant melodies in the mix here – but they’re in the mix with whirling chaos and some kind of cerebral explosion.

When they do slow things down and bring down the manifold layers of hyperactivity, as they do in the altogether gentler and magnificently mystical mid-album interlude, ‘Ghost’, they reveal a real knack for atmosphere and ethereality. Haunting and evocative, it’s a magnificent piece. In contrast, ‘Euphoria’ begins as a pleasant, rippling piano-led piece that quickly evolves into what sounds like about three songs all playing at once, which is difficult to assimilate.

The musicianship is outstanding, but it sometimes feels as if they’re trying too hard to showcase their technical prowess, and just because you have ideas doesn’t mean you should play them all at once. It’s good, but it’s busy, and the twangy slap bass on ‘Prejudice’ is a little flimsy in the face of the full-on crunch of ‘Light’.

One is indisputably well-realised, both in terms of composition and production. But despite it seemingly being too much in parts, some of it leaves you yearning for more.

AA

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