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O’Brother Doesn't Believe in Comfort Zones

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O’Brother is one ambitious group of hard-working musicians. Hailing from Atlanta, GA, the rock quintet—lead vocalist/guitarist Tanner Merritt, guitarists Johnny Dang and Jordan McGhin, drummer Michael Martens, and bassist Anton Dang—refuses to become complacent. Since 2006, O’Brother has blended elements of indie rock, post-hardcore, post-rock, experimental rock, and more with the goal of pushing their artistic capabilities. Despite changes to their lineup over the years, this goal remains. Currently touring with The Dillinger Escape Plan, O’Brother continues to step out of their comfort zone, even after 10 years as a band.

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Endless Light

Look no further than their latest album, Endless Light, released in March of 2016, to see the band’s ambition in action. With a major shift in their sound, the album moves away from O’Brother’s heavier influences and focuses on letting sorrow permeate through soothing vocal melodies and a calm atmosphere. Instrumentally, their subtle sludge metal guitar riffs have been traded in for negative space. Taking on a new-found minimalistic approach in songwriting, O’Brother has showed that they put a lot of thought into every piece of their sound and little fear that the change could alienate their audience.

In a recent interview with Bearded Gentlemen Music about Endless Light, Merritt explained O’Brother’s new approach to writing music:

We wanted to stretch ourselves as songwriters and make each piece of the greater puzzle beautiful and unique and listenable on its own...In previous efforts we have tended to stack layers and layers of guitars on one another. On Endless Light we all agreed we wanted guitars to be a little more minimal. To let the rhythm section and central melody shine through.

It seems that O’Brother were just channeling their love for Brand New with angst-driven post-hardcore and adding just the right dose of sludge metal with tracks like “Transience” on Disillusion, their 2013 release. Now, on Endless Light, they’re putting out soothing indie-rock tracks like “Deconstruct” that focus on ambience.

For Endless Light, O’Brother removed nearly all metallic elements found on Disillusion, such as heavily distorted sludge metal riffs. Additionally, the guitars are stripped down, not heavily layered. Despite having three guitarists in the band, O’Brother shows that guitar riffs do not have to be playing throughout the entirety of their songs. Instead, they keep it simple on “Deconstruct” and other songs on Endless Light by only using guitar chords and quiet guitar melodies sparingly. This leaves a lot of room for negative space, which O’Brother use to create an ominous atmosphere, not relying as much on Merritt’s tortured voice.

Taking on a new-found minimalistic approach in songwriting, O’Brother has showed that they put a lot of thought into every piece of their sound and little fear that the change could alienate their audience.

Throughout Endless Light, Merritt croons with a voice bereft of the vulnerability found on Disillusion. Despite this, the conscious decision to trade away the elements of a guitar-driven album for minimalism create the intended ominous vibe by focusing on the atmosphere of the song itself and not relying so much on Merritt’s vocals.

If there’s any fault to be found in Endless Light, it’s that there is not as much experimentation with the vocals as there is in O’Brother’s previous work. Merritt hardly showcases his falsetto or the screams that make Disillusion so emotional. Instead, his voice mainly seems to follow along with certain tracks, rather than adding anything to them. Perhaps certain tracks, like “Black Hole,” would be better as instrumentals.

O’Brother have shown that removing elements that have made their music successful in the past is nothing to be afraid of because their new approach has created a fresh sound without sacrificing any of the feeling the band puts into their music.

9,250 out of 10,000 Rawckus Kung Fu Throwing Stars.

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