O’Death play a minor chord folk rock that crosses Devendra Banhart’s tremulous waver with old-timey banjos and violins to produce propulsive and yearning jams that hit just the right balance of nostalgia and freak folk derangement.
Out of Hands We Go is the band’s fifth long-player, following on from 2011’s Outside. Although this later work doesn’t depart overly from the group’s standard template, is nevertheless an intriguing and compelling statement.
The album was recorded in a local music and arts venue in Biddeford, Maine, which bandleader Greg Jamie had taken over following a move there from the band’s erstwhile base in Brooklyn.
Arrangements are pleasingly ragged, thanks to Caleb Mulkerin’s steady hand on the production rudder to stop things getting too slick, with the band’s road-honed discipline keeping things from falling apart too much. Indeed this is the main difference to their previous record, the easy-going, live feel of the tunes a contrast to Outside’s precise sheen.
Roam is good example, its clanking Ray Davies stomp given added rust by layers of guitar and banjo, while Robert Pycior adds a lovely Balkan-style violin vamp. Go and Play with Your Dead Horses has a fantastic lo-fi feel, the banjo and mournful vocal scuzzed up by the crummy mic and background noise. When My Dog Gets Out Let Him Run, another grubby fragment, ends abruptly after just under a minute, cut off like some iPhone bootleg stymied by a failing battery.
Sandwiched between those two tracks, Apple Moon provides a nice contrast, its bouncy romp like REM’s Driver 8 covered by a grumpy jug band deep in bandit country.
These tightly woven musical settings are the perfect backdrop for Jamie’s fractured laments. “Your father pulled me through the yard/I tried to duke it out with him,” he yelps on Wait for Fire. This is a great track, propelled by jerking stop-start rhythm that’s half-Bo Diddley, half dancehall, the strings marking sinuous, almost afrobeat melodies that wind around and underneath his tale of murderous love.
It’s true that Out of Hands We Go’s yoking together of alt rock moves with traditional music motifs will probably irk folk music purists. But this is a minor quibble. After all, scruffy oiks have been grafting old-timey tunes onto a more modern chassis ever since a Messrs Zimmerman, Robertson and the rest wandered into a basement in Woodstock with a two-track tape recorder and a bunch of songs about Eskimos and death.
So put your worries away and enjoy Out Of Hands We Go. It is a lovely record, melancholic and joyous in turn and full of melodicism and drama. Dig its mongrel stylings.