Album Review: Oso Oso - 'sore thumb'

Oso Oso is a New York emo band formed in 2014 by singer, songwriter and only permanent member Jade Lilitri. Since the band's inception, Oso Oso have accumulated impressive critical acclaim. The Mic's Hal Hewlett discusses Oso Oso's fourth full length album, 'sore thumb'.

Emo music has, of late, been having a real second wind. more traditional, rock-focused emo music has risen back into the pseudo-mainstream, buoyed by the success of emo rap artists. The infusion of musicality from more general alt-rock, indie and alt-pop acts has given a new direction to the genre. Acts from the American northeast come to mind - Modern Baseball and Slaughter Beach, Dog, The Hotelier and, of course, Oso Oso. Spearheaded by singer/songwriter Jade Lilitri, their new effort, Sore Thumb, showcases an astute assessment of the band’s strengths - in equal measures stripped-back and DIY acoustics, accentuated with full, spirited instrumentation when called for.

"Lilitri demonstrates that there’s a catchiness to be found in slamming all the audio tracks together to the point of indistinguishability..."

All of this is shown off excellently on the album’s first track, Computer Exploder, which begins with Lilitri’s deliberately self-conscious and slightly trembling vocals coming in over fluttering guitar strumming and simple percussion. Combined with the lyrical themes of uncertainty and drug use (‘captain of my own titanic, these pills make me feel gigantic’), the light guitar strumming continues over a driving bassline that feels impressively mixed and catchily written. This leads the song up into its hook, which swings in with the whole package - backing vocals, dazzling guitar lines and and a catchy central melody. It’ll become a theme with Oso Oso - the band’s blend of catchy, power-pop songwriting with some eclectic instrumentation choices and a clear virtuosity and breadth of style makes for some brilliant tracks.

The hooks are, unsurprisingly, the stars of the show here. The mixing on Sore Thumb indicates that when it comes to songs like this, there’s no one way to find success - on songs like Computer Exploder, the song is clean enough to hear each of the instrumental lines looping around and through each other. On songs like Father Tracy, however Lilitri demonstrates that there’s a catchiness to be found in slamming all the audio tracks together to the point of indistinguishability, a wave of charged white noise crested by Lilitri’s impassioned, crooning vocals. And while the delivery is consistently strong, the mood of these vocals also showcase brilliant variation. While songs like Basking in the Glow, that blend sadness with exuberant choruses, are still here, on tracks such as lead single Pensacola, Lilitri shows an understanding of the ethereal, the depressing and even the slightly creepy. Even when hooks don’t even factor into the equation, the atmospheric power on a song like Sunnyside is enough to hold the track up by itself, and provide some much-needed variety.

Of course, as with any band like this, tonal stagnation across the course of a twelve-track album is always a concern. As much as yelling your heart out to sad songs about crying over people is fun, it gets dull after a while no matter how talented the writing is. Beyond that, not all sadness is the kind that demands a happy song - sometimes, it requires songs like Carousel, that are well-written, catchy, and build not to a joyful outpouring but a measured, melancholy conclusion. Luckily, Lilitri seems to be acutely aware of this particular concern. No song outstays its welcome (they all clock in neatly under four minutes, and most around three), and the big emotional bangers are interspersed with songs that opt for a little more restraint, or a more eclectic sound.

Although even the more different songs follow a formula, only rarely do they begin to feel played out. Of course, every rule has its exceptions - Father Tracy does strike me as a song that outstays its welcome and provides too little in the way of experimentation to elevate the song above stock-standard pop rock. The album doesn’t have lowlights so much as it has midlights, songs that go through the motions but nonetheless fail to grab me. Then again, the album generally avoids this - I’d be hard pressed to name more than two songs on the twelve-track project that feel legitimately uninspired, and even those that do still maintain a par level of skillful songwriting and good sound.

"Under the slick songwriting and clear desire to branch out with regards to things like instrumentation or production, there lies a genuine vulnerability that’s impossible to miss. "

Of course, while Oso Oso’s sound is certainly spearheaded by their more pop and rock infused tracks, the interludes to this sound stand on their own as well. This departure first breaks into the album in the fourth track, Give a Fork, a mellow and echoing soundscape that throws acoustic instrumentation into the mix and lets it bounce around for a bit. There’s no need for anything resembling a hook here - Lilitri lets the sound itself build the song into a climax that’s emotional enough on its own, before abruptly cutting off into All Love, another stripped back song that serves as a bit of an interlude before the next track comes humming back in. The use of light, swinging percussion is buried behind Give a Fork’s heavy bass and smoothed out instrumental lines, creating the most layered and varied instrumentation on the album at points in the song. It's impressive, given that the song’s ethereal, drifting tone can’t allow for the white-noise hooks of other tracks. Don’t fret - among this collection of driving, powerful tracks, there are some reserved songs that remain intensely engaging.

This album, for both musical and external reasons, feels like Oso Oso’s most affecting. The album was recorded by Lilitri and his bandmate Tavish Maloney last year, shortly before Maloney’s death at the age of 24. The songs haven’t been altered at all since the recording (apart from mixing and mastering), so what’s left is a final product that’s not an album about grief, but nevertheless one that never fails to conjure up those feelings in its more vulnerable moments. Sore Thumb stings with poignancy, happy memories that nonetheless can bite with tears. Under the slick songwriting and clear desire to branch out with regards to things like instrumentation or production, there lies a genuine vulnerability that’s impossible to miss.

In all, Sore Thumb is a spirited new effort from Oso Oso, shedding some of the glitzy and pop-infused guitar lines from earlier releases in favour of a more stripped back sound in the verses, while maintaining Lilitri’s talent for joyful choruses. Although it doesn’t offer much in the way of groundbreaking experimentation, it maintains a standard of quality that, since Basking in the Glow, has placed Oso Oso in the upper echelon of emo-influenced alternative music.

Hal Hewlett


Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Oso Oso via Facebook. Video courtesy of Oso Oso via YouTube.