oRSo - Ask Your Neighbor
Record Label: Contraphonic Records
Release Date: September 9, 2008
oRSo have somewhat quietly been writing music for over a decade, shortly after front-man Phil Spirito left the indie band Rex. A rather unique outfit, oRSo’s musical styles could best be described as a cross between Okkervil River (although less depressive) and Sigur Ros (although less majestic), in that they combine indie, folk and country influences, with ambient almost orchestral post-rock songs. Strings, banjos and horns play just as prominent a role in oRSo’s music as the traditional guitar, bass and drums. Their fourth full-length album, Ask Your Neighbor, is no exception, and while it may not be one of the most captivating and gratifying releases of 2008, it may be one of the most pleasant and melodic.
There is something remarkably understated about Ask Your Neighbor; this is perhaps partly due to the fact that there aren’t many standout tracks on the album, and nothing about the music really grabs your attention. That being said, “It’s Not Likely” is a remarkably well-considered and beautiful tracks, and covers all the band’s styles and techniques perfectly, fully utilizing strings and piano to wonderful effect, accompanied by minimal percussion and gentle strumming. There are other standouts, such as the delightfully simple “Protest Song,” the very pleasant “Anniversary” and the slightly more ambitious “To Be Held,” but the rest of the album’s tracks tend to run together in a not wholly desirable way, possibly caused by the fact that pretty much every song on the album is in the same time signature (3/4 time). There are also some weaker numbers, such as the rather grating “Warm Up” and the almost raucous and somewhat ill-considered closer “Way Way,” which features a section with almost screaming vocals and a somewhat chaotic feel, which totally disrupts the highly serene aesthetic painted by the previous eleven tracks.
But the tracks themselves are not the only reason why Ask Your Neighbor feels understated. The music is highly calming and melodic, making it perfect for peaceful and lazy nights, and although the music is deep and textured, it doesn’t feel overpowering in any way, except possibly on the aforementioned “Way Way”. The vocals on the record are mostly enjoyable, although the roughness of Phil Spirito’s voice can occasionally be somewhat grating, but fortunately he is often accompanied by very pleasant if occasionally thin female vocals. Also, the lyrics are functional but far from outstanding. Musically, the album is very rich and interesting, and the group clearly features some talented musicians. Through their playing, and the well-considered songwriting, the group paint a charming and calming picture, and there is an undeniable sense of warmth evident throughout the album’s 42-minutes. Clearly oRSo’s greatest strength is their wonderful sense of melody, which is demonstrated best by the utterly delightful “It’s Not Likely”.
It’s the incredible sense of peace and the wonderful imagery painted by the music on Ask Your Neighbor, coupled with the band’s interesting and experimental musical style, which makes the record so enjoyable. There is a whimsical charm and rather personal tone to the music, which only adds to its appeal. There is very little that is outstanding about Ask Your Neighbor, apart from possibly the strongly textured and well executed instrumentals, but while oRSo’s music is never as captivating as indie rock giants like Okkervil River or Shearwater, nor is it as grandiose as post-rock trailblazers like Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky, it has just as much heart, charm and soul. Despite some drawbacks, Ask Your Neighbor is a lovely album, well recommended for all those who like understated but deeply musical and extremely thoughtful indie rock.