Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky

OK Go

Capitol, 2010

http://www.okgo.net/

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/13/2010

Just as the first chunky, distorted, indelibly retro-chic notes of this album’s memorable opener “WTF” fall in your lap, OK Go frontman / shaman Damian Kulash, Jr. declares “I’ve been trying to get my head around what the f**k is happening / I’ve been trying to make some sense what chu doin’ with my head.”

Same to you, sir.  Same to you.

Before we go any farther, though, let me say this: I firmly believe that someday OK Go will earn a lifetime achievement award for their music videos, and that they will richly deserve it.  The videos associated with their 2005 breakthrough album Oh No were among the most deceptively simple and exuberantly compelling examples of the form ever created.  (And this from a guy who doesn’t even like music videos.) The video for the new album’s current single “This Too Shall Pass” is an equally giddy concoction, resolutely low-tech in a way that sucks you in and sets you up to be surprised and delighted by the complexity of what they eventually pull off in -- once again -- a single, long, live take. 

But -- I’m not here to review music videos.  I’m here to review Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky,   and that’s a whole ’nother animal.  Where Oh No was a tart concoction of slamming power-pop, dripping with juicy guitar leads and catchy riffs, Sky – produced by Dave (Flaming Lips) Fridmann -- is thoroughly, exasperatingly, exhilaratingly different.  It is a HUGE musical left turn, and not everyone is going to make the curve.

I didn’t myself, at first.  In fact, after the first time through this album, I wrote: “Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky feels like a cross between an album-length Prince homage and a complete nervous breakdown.  No, seriously, this disc sounds like His Purpleness and INXS circa 1985 dropping some realllly bad acid and making an album while all the knobs and dials still look like they’re made of green jello.”

And then I listened again.  And again.  And again.  And a strange thing happened.  I dug it.  I dug the purposefully bizarre white-soul new-wave psychedelic vibe of the whole thing.  The music has kind of a metallic, glammy throb to it that, when paired with Fridmann’s penchant for off-the-wall Lips-style psychedelia, feels slightly deranged.  But -- it grows on you, I swear it does, and no, I haven’t been nibbling at the brownies the band so kindly proferred, but thanks for asking. 

In its own way, this album is the perfect extension of the band’s music videos -- truly strange in places, all angular sounds and sharp corners, yet, once you get inside the vibe, undeniably groovy.   What still amazes me is how different my first couple of times through this album felt compared to what I’ve experienced since then.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

First time through, leadoff single “WTF” felt affected and contrived, a funked-up, falsetto-ed, wannabe “1999” successor with shrieking synths, bells and lord knows what else assaulting you.  Since then it’s become one of my favorite moments on the album, a glorious impressionistic panorama of familiar sounds that you’ve never heard put together quite this way before.  Same with the surging Motown-meets-P-Funk-in-the-choir-box “This Too Shall Pass,” with the tiny, tinkly piano at its core bolstered by enough gathering layers of sound to make Brian Wilson dance a jig.  On first pass I was grimacing; by the third I was singing along.

The band – Kulash, Timothy Nordwind (bass/vocals), Dan Konopka (drums) and Andy Ross (guitar) – let their Motown fetish out to play again in “All Is Not Lost,” whose echoey drums and tambourine sound like mid-60s Supremes.  “Needing/Getting” is perhaps the only track here that reminds at all of Oh No, with its assertive riff and big rock vocals, but it’s more psychedelic pop than power-pop; the guitar solo -- if you can call it that -- dissolves into a mess of feedback to the point where it feels like the whole song is breaking down, before they bring it back to a dreamy little reprise.  How fine the line is between strange and beautiful.

For moments of pure demented over-the-top-ness, it’s hard to beat the bridge of virtual Purple Rain outtake “Skyscrapers,” where at mid-song Kulash cries “I was blind” in falsetto until his vocal goes right off the rails into screaming nutball territory.  The music – as if trying to calm the poor guy down -- then rolls into a subdued soul-trance-jam thing. Still, the place where, the first time through, I became convinced the guys had lost it completely was when I got to the one-two punch of “Before The Earth Was Round” – which, as my notes indicate, Kulash “quote-unquote sings through a vocoder, sounding like a mentally disturbed refugee from a Kraftwerk album” – and “Last Leaf,” a gentle, pretty, sincere (or at least deadpan) acoustic ballad that sounds like it’s not just from a different album but a different band entirely.  Um, huh?  By the time Kulash fairly shrieks “Oh God what have I done” in mescaline-injected closer “In The Glass,” I couldn’t help wondering if he was talking about the album he’d just made.

And then, as I said, I listened again.  And again.  And at some point I broke through the membrane of my own preconceptions of what this album ought to sound like -- or more precisely, what I wanted it to sound like, e.g. a straight-up sequel to Oh No -- and really heard it.  Really heard the complexity and richness of these tracks, the finger-snapping, fearless panache of soul-burners like “White Knuckles,” the throbbing funk-pop potency of “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe.”  Got past the judgments that might call the whispery, pulsing “End Love” or the dreamy, discordant “While You Were Asleep” aural freakshows, rather than brave, compelling claims on fresh musical territory.

As Kulash told Billboard in November, "We're not going to duplicate ourselves in any way… we just want to be the band who does weird stuff."  Mission accomplished.

Bottom line, my guess is that you’re either going to hate this album or love it – or maybe one and then the other.  Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky might be OK Go’s Tales From Topographic Oceans… or it might be their Pet Sounds.  For now I’m going with my gut.  I made the curve – not by much, but I made it.  Like OK Go’s unbroken string of genius music videos, this album is thoroughly off-kilter, bracingly gutsy and, in places, shockingly brilliant.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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