Release Date: Apr 19, 2011
Record label: Ernest Jenning
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Punk/New Wave, Cowpunk
O'Death are a New York City-based quintet playing scrappy, Americana-seeped folk songs-- they can be menacing and frantic, or odd and quiet-- in the slapdash spirit of Tom Waits. For O'Death, at least, it's the New York bit that tends to trip people up: It's easy to feel distrustful of (real or imagined) hipster mobs, and to feel proprietary about music as raw and unpretentious as the classic country and folk O'Death mine. And while these days every band that enlists a fiddler gets subjected to an Americana litmus test-- Are they southern? Are they poor? Are they really wearing overalls? Are the overalls real?-- the thing about folk music is that it's impossible to render inauthentic: Inclusiveness is its crux.
Outside is a rather apt name for the third album from New York's O'Death: if there's one theme that permeates this eclectic collection of songs, it's a constant feeling impression of wide open space. The great outdoors - of the Americana variety - is a running theme throughout the quartet's work, with many of their previous albums sounding like they came straight from the plains of the Mid West or the Appalachian mountains. It's with Outside album, however, that they've finally captured the epic scope promised by their previous long-players and anarchic live shows.
Forty-five years after Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, the same stage witnessed a 'comeback' performance by New York folk rock band O'Death. In truth they'd only been away for about a year, but the press release for their latest album Outside still hails the event as a turning point – not so much because of the legendary setting (imagine what those who cried sell-out at Dylan would have made of O'Death's hillbillies-on-meth punky bluegrass) but rather the fact that the show was a celebration to mark drummer David Rogers-Berry overcoming cancer. For a band as obsessed with the macabre as O'Death, a brush with mortality may seem grimly ironic, but the question of what effect such misfortune would have on their music is an intriguing one.
It’s fitting that the third album from punk/folk/Americana five-some O’Death is titled Outside—after all, that’s where all the the fires, floods, windstorms and burials that appear time and again through the album take place. While O’Death may have retreated a bit from the genuine madness that fueled their 2008 high water mark Broken Hymns, Limbs and Sins—aided, no doubt, by health ailments (osteosarcoma and subsequent shoulder replacement) that have befallen drummer David Rogers-Berry over the past three years – the band still kick up a sinister racket, calling on influences from Sixteen Horsepower, Blitzen Trapper, Tom Waits and Varnaline. So yeah, Outside conjures a world where faithful wives are buried (“Alamar”)...
Once known for their incorporation of fusion, O’Death discards their overflowing bag of influences and concentrates strictly on rustic folk for their their 2011 album Outside. With any hints of gypsy-punk swept aside, the pace is down-shifted as the five-piece sticks to rural, minor chord banjo ballads with sweeping arrangements. There is nothing in the fiery spirit of “Low Tide,” but there are some dynamic moments where songs like “Pushing Out” or “Look at the Sun” crescendo almost to a majestic rock-out.
The biggest impediment in O’Death’s career is that they hail from Brooklyn instead of some backwoods holler somewhere in the Ozarks. Known for their sweaty, often shirtless live shows, the band mix mountain music with metal and punk, creating darkly atmospheric records that are both Thomas Hart Benton gothic and Hot Topic goth. But because they’re based in a hipster enclave, they’ve been called out as ersatz hillbillies—as if traditionally rural music couldn’t be made in an urban setting.
What could have been an epilogue is actually an entirely new chapter. Mike Diver 2011 Album three from New York’s O’Death finds the rough-edged folk-punk quintet, all shiny eyes and bushy beards behind music that rings out with old-time values and contemporary bite, returning from the brink of potential dissolution. The band’s drummer, David Rogers-Berry, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in 2009, around touring in support of second LP Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin.