I’ve always found the concept of entropy quite comforting. The idea that our universe is slowly but persistently spinning out of control a little bit at a time. Although I generally perceive life through a half-full glass, there is a slight relief knowing some of the liquid will unavoidable spill over the lip. Maybe that’s why events like Y2K or 12/21/2012 always build in the collective conscience to epic proportions. Maybe that’s why bands like Atlanta’s O’Brother are invariably writing the soundtrack to the coming apocalypse.
Endless Light is now their third full length and the 5 piece have always had a penchant for ominous vocals (Tanner Merritt), distorted guitars (Johnny Dang, Jordan McGhin), and a downright dirty rhythm section (Anton Dang [bass], Michael Martens [drums]). Preview clips from any of album’s 11 new songs will reveal that the band’s tones are as barbed-wire sharp as ever. Their music has always been unnerving in its intensity. Those sonic cornerstones still stand firm on this latest venture while continuing to push into new territory.
The bombastic percussion of album opener ‘Slow Sin’ sets the stage for the band’s newfound sense of refined songwriting and delivery. Their preceding full-length Disillusion hinted at a more straightforward sound on tracks like ‘Perilous Love’ but conversely bathed in meandering washes of sound such as ‘Oblivion.’ Here the only veering the band does is the closing moments of the final track. Besides those 4 minutes, the band is leaner and meaner than ever. Utilizing every second to tell the story in concise jabs (‘Black Hole’) and haymakers (‘Deconstruct’).
While contracting the length of each song, O’Brother have also expanded their arsenal. Tanner’s voice has continued to mature. He stretches his range on songs like ‘Burn’ and repertoire on songs like ‘Bloodlines’ where his delicate croons wedged right before his distressed yelps “I want to bathe in the glory of the dreadful sound.” The band’s full choral chants help to accentuate his distinctive delivery. The band has grown in stride with Merritt as well.
While they’ve employed bowed playing to their electric instruments in the past, they’ve reached new pinnacles on ‘Time is a Length of Rope.’ Buttressing crashing guitars next to complex rhythms and giving an eerily similar vibe to genre-crosses Radiohead.
As alluded to earlier, an overarching theme of destruction spans across the album. ‘Complicated End Times,’ whose sinister bass and sauntering guitars open the track, is the ideal choice to usher in the dawn of humanity’s last day. Those elements however only serve as a prelude to the oncoming tsunami of sound that floods chorus.
There were a couple times while listening I yearned for the more drawn out dynamics of their earlier work but songs like the aforementioned ‘Complicated End Times’ and ‘Time Is a Length of Rope’ typify when the band gets this new focused approach correct. Whereas older songs took the listener on a journey, the same task is assigned to several tracks. Nostalgia is not O’Brother’s end goal and they’ve taken repeated steps into adventurous new pathways on this latest venture. Whether that is from fear of growing stale musically or simply giving into the ever-pulling chaos that envelops the universe, it doesn’t change that the band has created some of their most compact, strongest work to date.