OK Go - Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
Record Label: Capitol
Release Date: January 12, 2010
Well, if there were ever a fitting song title, "WTF?", the first single from OK Go's third release Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, is definitely it. Scarcely recognizable as the band that band that recorded their glossy self-titled debut, OK Go seem to have broadened their scope far beyond even some of the more groove-oriented tunes on Oh No, like "Oh Lately, It's So Quiet" and "A Million Ways". Trying to generate hype for your upcoming album with such a departure is always risky, and it seemed like a curious move at first. Then I heard Of the Colour of the Blue Sky in all its glory, and it all made sense.
OK Go's new direction probably shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Prominent producer Dave Fridmann helmed this record, and it certainly wouldn't be the first time he had a hand in a band's reinvention, having also turned the knobs for a little album called A City by the Light Divided (a polarizing album, for sure, as this one will undoubtedly be). While there's unquestionably no similarity with Thursday on Colour, there is a definite flavor of some of the other bands Fridmann's worked with of late, like MGMT and Black Moth Super Rainbow. Plus, OK Go released their last album back in 2005, so we'd be remiss not to expect them to have progressed at all in that time.
Long gone are the clarion power-riffs to propel their songs. The opening of "WTF?" throws a Tim Lincecum curveball with a deep industrial groove (for the first few seconds, you might wonder if you accidentally popped in a Nine Inch Nails disc) and vocalist Damian Kulash stepping in and unfurling a fluttery Prince-aping falsetto. There are a lot of surprises to be heard, and "This Too Shall Pass" is a neat, three-minute summary of what makes it all successful. There seems to be, for lack of a better word, a very economical use of sound. The heavy low-end drives this song as well, but knows when to back off and let just the plinking piano and airy harmonies take center stage. Despite the many layers, there's more than enough room for everything to breathe.
The bass, chiming bells and electronic effects on "All Is Not Lost" create an almost spectral ambience, and its spacy guitar solo foreshadows the intriguingly dynamic "Needing/Getting", on which guitars that shimmer with a sparkle inspired by Dredg and The Appleseed Cast jockey for position against a throbbing Reznor-like pulse. And that's just the first three minutes. The sparser accompaniment, close harmonies and subtle atmospheric noise on the last two minutes recall Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective to a degree.
The album's shining moment comes on its fifth track, "Skyscrapers". OK Go's past music can often feel as if it's being thrust at you, and Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is also very loud at times, though that's often to accentuate its quieter moments. "Skyscrapers" presents this new OK Go at their most minimal. It's clear that they no longer want you to just bob your head along, but to sit breathlessly trying to take it all in. Well, at least most of the time. "White Knuckles" and "I Want You So Bad I Can't Breathe" are about as catchy as anything they've recorded before, while still reflecting the band's newfound musical ambitions.
Blending electronics with ethereal dream-pop harmonies, much like many of the songs on The Republic Tigers' Keep Color, "End Love" might be the album's sleeper hit, and OK Go go even further in the electro direction with "Before the Earth Was Round", on which Kulash's voice is completely shrouded in vocoder. The display of breadth continues on the naked ballad "Last Leaf", which features just Kulash and an acoustic guitar, and the shapeshifting "Back From Kathmandu", which alternates between a foreboding stomp and a sunny '70s vibe.
All the bombast on the album only serves to highlight a barebones synth track like "While You Were Asleep", on which Kulash's plea of "can't you love me?" offers a welcome sense of humanity. Thudding drums build toward the end, as if to introduce the epic closer, "In the Glass". With its organ, bells and thunderous percussion, it almost sounds like the work of a groovy Arcade Fire. Without a doubt, this is all a lot to swallow, especially for long time fans of the band. Pure pop escapism this isn't, but as proof-positive that a band can evolve into legitimate artists without resorting to navel-gazing, it's wholly triumphant.
you're each entitled to your opinion.. but, to say that, you were probably expecting something different than what you got-- and are grading them on the would-be scale, instead of giving the new direction a chance.