In the band’s debut album, Oh800 handsomely delivers an immediate impact in the spectacular result, Character Building. The London-based three-piece alt-rock band’s nine-track album is a sure contender for one of the best in 2018. Proving once again that it’s better to listen until the last one comes into place, Oh800’s November release requires little endurance to enjoy songs that make you dance and make you band your head.
Before I gush any further, I should at least let you know the Oh800 players: Eoin Rooney (vocals, guitars), Gavin Ellis (Bass, synths) and Olly Betts (drums). They all even have cool names. Rooney’s vocals come across as confident as David Byrne (Talking Heads), as prove-you-wrong as Dan Smith from Bastille and less cynical than Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith.
Rooney can go from matter-of-fact in the opener (title-track) to showcasing some additional range in “Shoulda Known It” and even clearer in the sixth track, “Palindrome.”
That said it takes a band to make this magic work, and his comrades are close behind – Ellis really throws out some wizardry with the synthesizer. He’s no slouch at the bass, either. The third track, “Melanin” starts out with the harmonies of “Wah, wah, wah” and you feel like you next jump into an experimental tonal barrage, with echoing guitar riffs and a smattering of synth and rock. The song ends with a Dr. Who-esque computer send off. Brilliant.
All the tracks have a synth component. Be still my heart, boys of Oh800. The title track blends rustic with industrial flavors – resulting in an immediate dance groove. Betts, at drums, gets a bit lost in some of the tracks, but he’s there when it’s most needed. I think that’s another reason this band really captured so many things for me as a listener – they all played their part and never overdid anything. I never felt like the vocalist was the star – the music itself overpowers any individual member.
Lyrically, Character Building has some interesting twists and turns. Fans of pop music – think Duran Duran meets Gang of Four and throw in some Modest Mouse and Rilo Kiley (possibly some fringes of The Faint) and you have some cool presentations. In the fourth track, “Bouncing Off Each Other,” Oh800 has a perfect communion of harmonies, bending synth and percussion mechanics that feels organic. The rocking guitar steps in with a bit of murkiness yet it’s still a fun song. The words and delivery have a sense of vindication: “I’m impervious anywhere!” Rooney sings.
Oh800 keeps you on your toes and wondering what sound and direction they’re going to take. In the ninth track, “Weird Dial” this well, weird, white noise, an almost chaotic murmur stretches into a calmer synthesizer bridge. At first I thought I was going to start hearing Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” but Ellis’ bass got to flapping’ like a freakin’ boss.
The only track that felt a little off to me – the seventh track, “Queen of Vague,” still had some nice tones and 60’s-like guitar riffs. It felt like it was missing some of the added punch the other tracks had.