OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

RIYL: Prince, MGMT, Death Cab for Cutie

They are only releasing their third album, but OK Go has rather shrewdly defined themselves as a multimedia phenomenon rather than a rock band. It’s a genius move, really, because suddenly the standard benchmarks for judging a band’s success are thrown out the window. Did the last album go gold? Who cares? The video they made of themselves dancing on treadmills has racked up over 49 million plays on YouTube. They are, in short, the kind of band that record labels used to kill to have on their roster; their devoted fan base would guarantee that all of the band’s albums would sell reasonably well, and as an added bonus, they allowed their bean-counting overlords to tell people that they believe in the creative process above all else. (Pssst. They don’t.)

©Jeremy & Claire Weiss Photography/Day19.

You get the sense that the band is more than aware of their rather fortunate place in the pop universe, because they just used that freedom to create their most adventurous, and consistent, album to date. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky bears little resemblance to the over-caffeinated power pop that once served as the band’s calling card, trading the muscular grooves of their 2005 album Oh No for something, well, groovier. Prince’s influence is all over the place, from the Parade-ish “WTF?” (complete with a 5/4 time signature and rip-roaring solo) to the slammin’ “White Knuckles,” which is one of the best “1999” covers ever. (Likewise “End Love,” which is this album’s “I Would Die 4 U.”) Singer Damian Kulash gives the falsetto an extensive workout here, which is fitting with the lyrical content; he’s clearly had his heart broken – “Needing/Getting” is the Jilted Lover song of the year – so the falsetto gives good voice to his pain.

If they’re smart, OK Go will consider adding producer Dave Fridmann as an unofficial fifth member, because his influence here cannot be underestimated. The drum tracks sound like the stuff of Steve Lillywhite’s wet dreams circa 1983, and the guitars are crystal-clear. He clearly encouraged the band to think big, because these songs bob and weave in ways the band had never dared to try before; “Needing/Getting” and “Skyscraper” both feature lengthy outros, and the overall sound is positively massive compared to the stripped down Oh No. If there’s a catch, it’s the album’s final third; there is nothing particularly wrong with the songs, but emotional fatigue begins to creep in. And then, in the final moments of closing track “In the Glass,” they clean the slate with one hellacious tribute to “I Want You/She’s So Heavy,” a slow-building, climbing/falling chord sequence that will give Chris and Ben from Death Cab fits. If only Fridmann hadn’t recorded the drums so hot at the end; the music is so pretty, but when turned above a whisper, the drums sound like an avalanche. Pity, since Fridmann had done such a good job avoiding that pitfall up until then.

Of the Blue Colour of the Sky may not bring many new fans to the OK Go camp – outside of a few Prince devotees – but we’re guessing that doesn’t really concern the band much, and that is exactly how it should be; the second a band starts worrying about what other people think of them, they’re done. At this rate, it wouldn’t surprise us to see OK Go turn into the pop equivalent of Wilco. God knows, the world could use more of those. (Capitol 2010)

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Click to buy Of the Blue Colour of the Sky from Amazon


21st Century Breakdown: R. David Smola’s Best Albums of the Decade

The 2000’s weren’t great for breaking new and exciting artists but some established folks sure put out some good material. The Purple one returned to make his best record in a long time and a metal specialist put out a mellower, kinder disc with compelling results. One of the best characters the music business has ever produced created an incredible record about saying goodbye with grace and dignity; he pulled it off with a little help from his friends. In our final final installment of our series on the best of the 2000s, here are the ten best releases from the most recent decade:

1. Warren Zevon: The Wind (2003)
Zevon was a ridiculously clever songwriter and half the time you couldn’t tell if he was making fun of you while you found him clever or not. He was intelligent, witty and knew how to construct a great song. Faced with terminal cancer, he willed himself to complete the album and see it completed (in direct contrast to his doctors’ orders). It was more than a simple swan song; it was a graceful and bittersweet conclusion to his life and underrated career. An all-star cast of cameos (Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, Don Henley and Tommy Shaw, to name a few) really enriched the material. “Keep Me in Your Heart” is the sweetest, most haunting ballad ever written and a further demonstration of the class and dignity of the artist.

2. Aimee Mann: Bachelor No. 2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (2000)
No one quite knows how to tell someone to fuck off as intellectually as she can. The fact that she had to rescue the album from the record company just like Wilco had to rescue Yankee Foxtrot Hotel makes this album even more satisfying. She always comes up with strong material but this record is perfect. Several tracks appeared on the “Magnolia” soundtrack. The rest of the material is sharp, melodic, catchy and full of unmistakable and brilliant Aimee Mann lyrics.

3. Sugarland: Twice the Speed of Life (2004)
A flawless country record with incredible pop crossover appeal. Jennifer Nettles establishes herself as a tremendous front woman and the material is top notch. There isn’t one wasted track. “Baby Girl” is a tremendous tune because the story feels authentic and the ballad “Just Might (Make Me Believe)” is Nettles at her best as she sings the hell out of it.

4. Johnny Cash: American IV – The Man Comes Around (2002)
As Cash is dying, Rick Rubin gets one more gem out of him, including the haunting version of “Hurt” in which Cash clearly steals the song away from Trent Reznor. Guest appearances by Fiona Apple, Don Henley and Nick Cave really enhance this marvelous record of Cash covering other artists and re-interpreting a few of his own. I suppose, off the top of your head, you would figure that Johnny and Nine Inch Nails, or Johnny and Depeche Mode would be silly, but you would be wrong. This is the best of the four American Recording records, but the other three are terrific also.

5. System of a Down: Mezmorize/Hypnotize (2005)
The three previous records indicated how good SOAD could be, but these two records realized all that potential and to this point is the pinnacle of their work. Angry, assaultive, and full of noise and tempo changes, these two records leave you exhausted and your ears begging for both mercy and for more. Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian blend their voices perfectly similarly to the way that Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell did in Alice in Chains. Serj is clearly the lead, but Daron (like Jerry) adds an intense layer of complementary harmony and occasional leads. Serj’s solo record is very good (Elect the Dead) and Scars on Broadway (Malakian’s band) had some solid moments, but I believe the whole is better than the sum of the parts. The parts have put out some compelling stuff: bring back System of a Down.

6. Cathy Richardson: Delusions of Grandeur(2006)
Now that she is a member of Jefferson Starship and busy touring with her own band, I wonder if she will have time to produce any more records under her name. This is an incredible work of art, from the songwriting to the soulful vocal performance to the album packaging. It is exquisite and her talent is overwhelming. It was my favorite record of 2006 and belongs on this list as one of the best of the decade. Her ability to move seamlessly through genres and sound equally at home and competent is unique. “Overwhelmed” is an absolute gem and a perfect example that Ms. Richardson knows exactly how to use that extraordinary vocal talent. “Ain’t No Home” is flawless laid back soul which much like the rest of the record sharply expresses the pain of loneliness. This is a great record, period.

7. Devin Townsend: Ki (2009)
Talk about a change-up. Townsend has been the songwriter, shredder and lead screamer for Metal monsters Strapping Young Lad, sang lead for Vai (the one album band project for guitar God, Steve Vai) and produced some fascinatingly heavy records under his own name and the Deven Townsend Band. After taking a break from touring and writing to clean up and recharge, Towsned’s first record in a four-record cycle is mellow, engaging, beautiful and melodic. Many of those adjectives shocked Townsend enthusiasts, but the man has depth. Ki is an incredible record which shows that the man can write very interesting introspective stuff and sing, yes, he can sing. Ki adds to the amazing range of a gifted musician. His sense of purpose in following his own muse, not what is expected, is a necessity that the music industry desperately needs.

8. Prince: 3121 (2006)
The little purple fellow finally put out a record that was worthy of his royal name. Yes, he borrows heavily from himself, but he funks the heck out of the album and it is a fabulous addition to his accomplished catalog. Most of his records after Purple Rain featured excellent tracks, but no record is as consistent as this one. He turns up the volume on the bottom end and really lets it fly. It took a long time to get to 3121, but it was well worth the wait.

9. The Mob: The Mob (2005)
There is something exhilarating when a band comes out of nowhere (unfortunately they’re most likely a one-off) and produces a spectacular melodic hard rock record that no one saw coming (and probably no one outside of Europe heard much). This super group made up of shredder Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken, Whitesnake), Dug (yep he changed his name) Pinnick (King’s X) on vocals, keyboardist Timothy Drury and drummer Kelly Keagy (Night Ranger), was produced by Kip Winger. The music is tight, the production is pristine and the songs are memorable. “The Magic” is a great power ballad and the best thing sung by Kelly Keagy (his only lead on the record) since “Sister Christian”.

10. Richard Marx and Matt Scannell: Duo (2008)
I am going to catch hell for this, but the ’80s ballad schlockster and the lead voice and songwriter of Vertical Horizon combine for an absolutely gorgeous recording of nine previous hits and one original. The production on this is clear; every strum on the guitar and vocal harmony is treat for the ear. Their voices blend naturally and the material sounds fresh and revitalized by these simple but elegant arrangements on acoustic guitars and occasional piano.

Honorable mentions certainly can be passed out to the following which just missed out on the top ten:

XTC: Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2
Nik Kershaw: To Be Frank

Maroon 5: Songs About Jane

Switchfoot: The Beautiful Letdown

Incubus: A Crow Left of The Murder,
Green Day: American Idiot
Tears for Fears: Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
Bowling For Soup: A Hangover You Don’t Deserve

Glenn Hughes: Soul Mover

Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime II

Heaven & Hell: The Devil You Know


Seen Your Video: OK Go, “WTF”

You have to feel a little bit bad for OK Go. Ever since they made the one-take, dancing-on-treadmills instant classic video for “Here It Goes Again,” the fifth (!) single from their 2005 album Oh No, they raised the level of expectations for their subsequent music videos impossibly high. You can’t help but wonder if the reason they have taken so long to record a follow-up album is because they were having a hard time coming up with an idea for the album’s first video.

We’re kidding, of course, but still, we’re willing to bet they went through over a hundred treatments before settling on the one for “WTF,” the first single from their upcoming album Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. The press release quotes singer Damian Kulash saying that “there is a lot of Purple Rain on this record,” a statement that we found dubious, to say the least. After all, Trent Reznor once said that Nine Inch Nails were making a Prince record, and the end result was The Fragile. Not quite a Prince record.

But as it turns out, OK Go did channel Prince, though we’d say it’s more Parade than Purple Rain. (Kulash’s falsetto is pure “Kiss.”) Armed with a Yes-like time signature (5/4, for those keeping score at home), “WTF” is one of the band’s best songs yet, and the video is an eye-popper. Using what we believe is referred to in the drug world as the tracer effect, the clips shows the band members walking around a white set, using giant wands to change the colors in the background. The clip looks like it was shot in one take as well, though we’re guessing there are a couple of cuts spliced in there. Either way, it’s a brilliant clip, in a my-head-hurts kind of way.


OK Go | MySpace Music Videos


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