wears the trousers magazine

ohbijou: beacons (2009)
June 16, 2009, 9:09 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , ,


Beacons •••½
Bella Union

Beacons is the long-awaited follow-up to Canadian collective Ohbijou’s 2006 debut, Swift Feet For Troubling Times. Clearly they were in no rush to release a second album, and it appears they have used the intervening three years to write and craft superior, multi-layered songs for their latest opus. The lengthy gestation process shows in the quality of their music in ways both good and bad; at times it can appear a little too laboured, at others suddenly fresh and breathtaking. Nonetheless, Beacons is one of those rare albums that needs to be enjoyed in its entirety (no iPod shuffle), and preferably on earphones as its rather delicate sensibility slowly effervesces throughout the album into sublime geishas of sound that nestle back down into tranquility.

Being described as an “orchestral folk indie-pop band” creates a niche for Ohbijou, with its seven members playing instruments as diverse as the banjo, glockenspiel, harpsichord, ukulele, mandolin, violin and melodica. And it is this melange of instruments that gives them their sad, wistful, ethereal sound, which wraps itself around frontwoman Casey Mecija’s fragile vocals (think a cross between Joanna Newsom, Nina Persson of The Cardigans, and Sinéad O’Connor). The lush sonic palette they create could be compared with the likes of Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, but Ohbijou sound like a band who have painstakingly eked out their own musical architecture. Lyrically, the album is preoccupied with the ‘Big City’ (be it Toronto, London or New York) and the attendant difficulties of living within the urban sprawl, set against the liberation experienced in nature.

Album opener ‘Intro To Season’ enters with melodica, banjo and marching drums that build slowly up in a wash of sound before exploding into violins and lush harmonies as Mecija entices us to “go underground” with her, away from the burning city. The Newsom-sounding ‘Wildfires’ is all cellos and harmonium, with that same tugging drum tattoo which takes us on a journey of hushed, soaring voices and piano. The sway and swagger of first single, ‘Black Ice’, has perhaps the most immediate chorus of the album and ends, like most songs here, in a crescendo of harmonies. ‘Cliff Jumps’ is one of the standouts, too – a lilting, stripped down ballad whose sudden key change halfway through is so wonderfully unexpected, delivering a beautiful sliding riff that reappears towards the end of the song.

The album tends to sag a little in the middle but picks up with the stunning ‘New Years’ as a creepy piano intro segues into bass and a beat that slowly builds with pizzicato strings and more piano, rushing wave-like towards the denouement of heartfelt vocals. ‘Make It Gold’ continues the template of quiet beginning followed by crash of sonic angst at the end, as Mecija relishes the line “bring back wickedness”. ‘We Lovers’ is another swaying ballad filled with warm vocal harmonies that sound strange and ethereal, while the strings-led ‘Memoriam’, with its refrain of “Glowing, gloaming / I know nothing at all”, again delicately builds up from acoustic guitars into a flurry of strings and percussion. Providing a more subdued conclusion the album, with its hammered piano chords and strings, is the Górecki-sounding ‘Jailbird Blues’ (think his Third Symphony that Lamb made famous).

Beacons is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, especially because nothing much seems to happen. But this album needs time and nurturing to appreciate its many treasures, and although some tracks are a little too similar sounding, it is still an assured and accomplished set that could well give Ohbijou international recognition.

P. Viktor
UK release date: 01/06/09; www.myspace.com/ohbijou

FREE MP3: Ohbijou, ‘Black Ice’


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