Oso Oso: basking in the glow

Music Reviews Oso Oso
Oso Oso: basking in the glow

Why did Jade Lilitri, the Long Island, New Yorker behind one-man wonder-band Oso Oso, play and sing the chorus of his song “dig” only once during its four-and-a-half-minute running time?

To understand the question, you have to appreciate the magnificence of that chorus. It comes in the middle of “dig,” bookended on the front end by a couple minutes of enjoyable pop-rock that bumps along like Pinback and on the back end by a coda that crescendos nicely, but ultimately feels unnecessary. In between is 34 glorious seconds in which the song opens up and turns its face toward the sun, bringing together peach-fuzz distortion, a reliable chord progression, a blanket of cymbals and Lilitri’s soaring vocals. “I’m still reeling from the mess I made,” he sings, as if rediscovering reality after two verses of cautious optimism. The combination of contrasting sounds and catchy melody is the stuff goosebumps are made of.

Why Lilitri didn’t use such a glorious chunk of music elsewhere in the song—say, after the first verse or repeated a couple times at the end—is anyone’s guess. But it only takes a few listens to Oso Oso’s new album, basking in the glow, to recognize that questioning the guy’s songwriting decisions is an exercise in diminishing returns. He is, it seems, incapable of writing a bad tune, at least at this point in his career.

Folks who were paying attention could see this coming. In 2015, Lilitri debuted Oso Oso with Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters…, an album where you can practically hear his melodic gifts fighting through a layer of punk pretense. Two years later, he self-released Oso Oso’s sophomore effort, the yunahon mixtape, as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp. And no matter what you paid for it, you got 11 tracks of crisp guitars and killer melodies that recall the heyday of emo-pop bands like The Get Up Kids. It’s as good as anything released by a real indie label that year.

basking in the glow proves yunahon was no fluke, with 10 tracks that all hum along like clean, finely tuned mega-melody-machines. There’s a dreamy acoustic intro (called “intro”), and the album’s melancholy closer, “charlie,” is paced like an alt-rock epic, à la late-era Death Cab for Cutie. But in between, Lilitri serves up one razor-sharp song after another, each perched right on the line between the inescapable feeling of experiential dread and a warm, wide-eyed optimism that things are about to get better. Maybe. Hopefully.

To wit: “the view,” a three-and-a-half minute slice of tightly wound pop built around a big beat, serrated guitars and a chorus that beams as Lilitri sings, “My eyes lit up when I saw it / A way out of looking for everything I wanted.” Within seconds, though, he’s averting his gaze: “So long narrow, hollowing road / Think I’m turning back, it’s the only way I’ve known.” The album’s title track splits the difference, with Lilitri acknowledging life’s impermanence before admitting his uncertainty: “It feels like all I know is this phase,” he sings in the song’s roller-coaster hook. “I hope I’m basking in the glow of something bigger, I don’t know.”

Elsewhere, “morning song” features a sleeker, more elegant vocal melody before exploding into a chorus about falling down because you leaned on something that turned out to be nothing. “priority change” sparkles and chugs like classic Midwest emo. And “impossible game” is arguably the album’s catchiest tune, with serpentine guitar licks wrapped around pithy quips like “Sometimes you do as you feel / Well most times I feel like shit.”

The only major aesthetic diversion on basking in the glow comes on “one sick plan,” an acoustic performance presented through an intentionally lo-fi style that crackles like a demo and feels like a stick-figure drawing dropped into a pile of Picassos. It’s a good song, but an odd production choice.

These are minor quibbles, of course, within the context of an otherwise brilliant work. basking in the glow is not only the fulfillment of the promise Lilitri showed on the yunahon mixtape, it’s one of the best pop-rock records of 2019. Even without a second chorus on “dig.”

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