When a major league pitcher throws a fastball high and tight, well inside of the plate, near to hitting the batter, announcers say that he threw it in that batter’s `kitchen.’ When a pitch is thrown in just the perfect spot for swatting out of the yard, it’s said to be in the batter’s `wheelhouse.’ There really should be more quaint phrases like this for rock music, or at least rock ought to be able to adopt a few of them. I listen to a lot of music. I can’t possibly like all of it, nor can I possibly dislike all of it. But rarely do I stumble across something that excites me as much as O’Death. This New York band plays a mixture of Appalachian mountain stomping jug music, gothic punk and brash cabaret. I’ll wait till you all stop scratching your heads trying to figure out what all of that means. Picture Tom Waits and Iggy Pop together in a musical touring edition of Deliverance and you might come close to figuring out what I’m talking about. But when these five guys got together, joining banjoes, fiddles, slide guitars, chains on the drums and wailing sandpaper vocals, well, it was right in my wheelhouse. Or was it my kitchen?
Head Home is the second album from O’Death, originally self-released back in 2006. The Ernest Jenning Record Company snatched these hellions up and has re-released the album so that all those, including myself, who didn’t have the chance to hear it before are allowed to revel in its hillstomping charm. And by charm, I mean unwavering path of musical destruction. Apparently, on the way down to Georgia, looking for a soul to steal, the devil made a stop in New York, imbuing some hillbilly instruments with a little of the Ol’ Scratch magic. Tracks like opener “Down to Rest” will either excite or terrify you with its mixture of high and low growls while “Allie Mae Reynolds” will have you dancing so fervently that you might spill the jug of moonshine you have in one hand and drop the venomous snake you have in the other. “O Lee O,” another foot-tapping country punk romp, finds frontman Greg Jamie’s voice sounding like a demonic hybrid of John Fogerty, Tom Waits, Ben Ottewell (Gomez) and Frank Black. And man, is it great! Surely, “O Lee O” is one of the best songs of the year.
O’Death can strum, pluck and sing as calmly as they do crazily, which they prove on tracks like “Travelin’ Man.” Jamie’s voice still cracks with quaint strains, but more in the sense that he’s like Neil Young, not Kurt Cobain. O’Death change up speeds like the aforementioned major league baseball pitcher. For every “Travelin’ Man” there’s a super speedy “All the World” or a maniacal Pixies-like “Rickety Fence Teeth.” No matter the speed, O’Death’s bottom line is entertainment, and the only thing reportedly more entertaining than Head Home is a live show from the five-piece, currently on tour in Europe. Let me just say this, if you’ve always wanted to spike the punch at a barn dance, let loose the farm animals and set fire to the hay wagon and send it careening toward the river, then an O’Death show is surely in your near future.
Really, O’Death should tour with their own carnival barker. They need to set up tents in empty lots rather than more traditional venues. It’s the only way to truly capture the essence of this band. The only drink that will be served is whiskey, and everyone must dance. Of course, only one dance is acceptable, that being the `Walter Huston finding gold dance’ from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It looks as if SUNY Purchase has done it again. TV on the Radio, Jenny Owen Youngs, Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice, Regina Spektor and Langhorne Slim all matriculated at the college. O’Death has been given some unwarranted grief over playing Southern music and being from New York, to which I say, keep it up. O’Death will simply hit you over the head with a banjo and steal the money you were saving for cornpone.