The third full-length from the New York emo pop band is a shining example of accidental, spontaneous brilliance
I’m no doctor, biologist or neuroscientist. I don’t know the reason my brain lights up one minute and 46 seconds into ‘computer exploder’, the opening track on oso oso’s stunning new album. But it does and it keeps doing it on each repeated listen.
This is no definitive explanation, but Jade Lilitri is clearly a disciple of melody, an innately pop-minded songwriter much in the same way as the likes of James Mercer (The Shins), Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), Carl Newman (The New Pornographers) or the late Adam Schleisinger (Fountains Of Wayne). Call these songs emo and scruff them up as much as you want, their pop hearts beat loudest.
During lockdown, Lilitri and his cousin and collaborator Tavish Maloney spent a month in Queens with regular oso oso producer Billy Mannino, just hanging out and recording, seeing what kind of off-the-cuff material transpired.
These sessions were supposed to be nothing more than preliminary experiments to inform the next oso oso album but all that changed when Maloney died a month afterwards, aged just 24. Lilitri made the call to release the album exactly how it was when his cousin last heard it, no embellishments, no improvements.
The result is an album that occasionally seems in defiance of its own catchiness. Where a different band might have leant into the shining pop brilliance of Lilitri’s tunes, sore thumb instead tosses them out with a shrug, like “this is almost too easy”. A gorgeous hook like the one that lifts ‘computer exploder’ into the stratosphere might have been nurtured and guarded like a precious gift but Lilitri can do this in his sleep.
In an interview with Stereogum, Lilitri debated whether ‘nothing says love like rehydration’ is even a good song. For a silly song, written as a Christmas present to his dad (and recounting the time Lilitri ruined Christmas with a gigantic hangover), it’s got no business being anywhere as good as it is.
Throughout, the scruffiness and oddness of sore thumb works massively in its favour. The offbeat, hesitantly discordant verses of ‘pensicola’ only make its chorus sound even huger, while the odd time signature that follows the heartbroken first verse of ‘carousel’ sounds for all the world like someone collapsing into themselves with sadness. If this is oso oso goofing about and seeing what happens, it’s almost terrifying to think what they might be capable of next.