If you remember from a while back, I ran a review on their last album, Mixtape, and did an interview with them. If you’re interested, I really suggest you go back and read that. If you’re lazy and don’t care too much, just know that these guys are friends of the blog, and make some interesting music. OBB is a pair of brothers working out of Colorado, making music in their shed-turned-recording-studio, and it’s not like much you’ve heard before.
Songs to Escape the Desert By sees them take on a variety of sounds. It sounds like it’s just kind of a collection of songs they’ve had around since Bad Sleep, which was released in 2011. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they’re bad; there’s a good mix of songs on here from my favorite album of their’s, Mixtape, along with a few tracks mixing in more of the traditional OBB sound.
The first few tracks, however, are a good introduction to what’s in store for the next hour. The opening track, “We are Slaves”, gives marching orders against the 1%-ers and the capitalist system in America that favors the rich and punishes the poor. It’s a hyper-liberal track that anyone over at Pitchfork would jizz their pants over. It’s also a great way to be introduced to the idea of Onboard Balloon, and what they stand for. Later on, “Starbender” takes a similar stance of hating on pop musicians with angry lyrics and hard bass line and angry guitar riff. Plus the pauses in the lyrics allowed Keegan to really do some fun, angry, and interesting instrumental stuff.
The next track, “Admittance”, smacks you in the face with the schizophrenic lyrics and beat. It frequently changes pace, and at multiple points the entire beat is completely dropped for some new instrumentation. But it’s strangely appealing; you have no idea where the song is going, but every new turn is something new and exciting. On top of that, you have Lee’s refrain of “my brain hates being trapped in me”, over and over and over again during one of those beat changes, and it just gives the song a whole new level of meaning and insight into the band.
“Barleywine Bucket Babies” shows off how weird and folksy they can get. And I’ll tell you what, this song gets weird. It’s only a banjo, and Lee’s voiced creepily doubled and letting that redneck drawl shine through. The banjo has this tin-like, twangy, clipped plucking to it, as though the musician didn’t know how to hold it properly. And the lyrics – “I was boooorrrrrnnnn in a bucket”. It’s about as backwoods as you can get without picking up a mason jar of moonshine, firing your shotgun into the air, and having sex with your cousin. It's weird, it's strange, and it's fantastic.
The rest of the songs feature these aspects in various degrees, with varying success. There’s a few songs in there that you kind of glaze over, as they meld into one another, especially given the random fade outs and beat changes that pop up from time to time in the middle of a track. This could be seen as a good thing; there’s nothing like having a well structured album with songs that sound related. But, at the same time, there aren’t too many truly memorable tracks. Sure, you can remember a line or two here and there, but you mostly glaze over those tracks.
However, there are a few tracks towards the end that really catch your attention. “Reflected” is a favorite of mine. It’s towards the back of the album, where Songs starts to drop off a bit, but it really picks the album up and drop it on your head. Much like the rest of the album, it’s essentially a spoken word poem. But instead, there’s just a simple accordion breathing, then a piano comes, then a guitar chord or two – the focus is on Lee, and on his words. And my oh my, are those words powerful. “Extremely pretty/Extreme these things”, “Close to spring time/Imma watch the Earth grow/For the 26th time/And it’s funny, this time/It feels a little different”, “Didn’t need a receipt to release the dream”. The best part is that the poem is folded upon itself; after getting to the middle of the song, Lee then goes back and repeats each line in reverse order. Even though it’s the same path you just took, it looks different after seeing the end of it, and to see it coming from a different angle. It’s a testament to the power of words and poetic structure that tends to be lost in most music today.
“On the Roof” just sounds depressing. I have very little idea about what’s going on in the song, but the narrator is on the roof, writing about a suicide and how there aren’t any bells ringing to mourn that death, even though people are talking about it. It then delves into the narrator’s interactions with a girl who killed herself, and how he wants to kill himself too. But the hook just sounds so good, so real, so honest, that you can’t help but pay attention and listen in close.
As a whole, the album is a bit of a mish-mosh of songs and styles, but it’s still uniquely Onboard Balloon. I think they have their sound, between the tracks off of Mixtape and half of the tracks on StEtDB. They just need that one album that distills that kind of music, and a little luck. Trust me, if you like new things and mindfucking lyrics, put Onboard Balloon on your list of bands to check out.