While the list of good things that have come out of Indiana is long and gloriously varied (The Jackson Five! Kurt Vonnegut! Hoosiers! Babyface! Garfield!), Sleater-Kinney-influenced indie-pop is something that usually brings a foggier, more coastal locale to mind.
With her new album, Elastic, Amy O makes a serious case for Bloomington’s place alongside cities like Olympia, Boston and San Francisco on the grunge-pop/Riot grrrl-offshoot map. Her finely-crafted, kinetic sound smacks you right in the face with the opener “Lavender Night.” Over big guitars and an urgent beat, Oelsner invites us into her private thoughts. “Another bullet dodged for now” she sings, “Back to the realm of stereo.”
There’s a tautness to most of the songs—a frenetic energy that tightens and releases just as the title of the album suggests. This propels the songs forward, a sensation that’s heightened by the non-traditional song structures that Oelsner favors. Songs zig and zag in a way that could be dizzying if she wasn’t so good at grounding them with a big fat hook—even chorus-less tracks get indelibly wedged in your brain. Take the lilting melody at the center of “Cherry Blossom,” perfectly grounded with relentless drums and a blazing guitar outro, or “History Walking” whose fizzy keyboard riff and rapid-fire cadence will make you move whether you want to or not.
She leaves moments for rest. And I do mean moments. Even songs that start out feeling like exhales (“Sunday Meal” and “Spinning”) morph into something else, often with the hearty smack of a snare on the backbeat. Crunchy, dizzying guitars swirl around her perfectly unbothered vocals; her love of the Roches coming through in the close-knit harmonies of “Spill” and “David”, the influence of Helium present in the low-slung grunge of “Soft Skin.”
This inescapable feminist lineage permeates Elastic, with Oelsner describing it as “learning how to be loud and take over a room, when those are things I’ve been socialized not to do. It’s been a very powerful realization that I can do that.”
She echoes this sentiment in her lyrics, the frequent mention of windows and light (sparks, neon, lightning) revealing a preoccupation with openness, exposure, and self-discovery. It comes as no surprise that Oelsner’s day job sees her running an after school zine-writing program for teens, encouraging others to see the value in their own voices and experiences the way she processes her own through song. “Lavender Night” is about a recent medical scare, while “Sunday Meal” is about returning home after the death of her grandma. These are disjointed diary entries that also happen to kick ass.