Pop Culture Gadabout
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
      ( 9/01/2009 06:13:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I SHOULD HELP MYSELF, BUT I'M NOT ABLE." The American Midwest has a history of earnest rock groups (think, for a quick example, of Missouri's hooky hard-rockin' natterers, The Rainmakers), and Chicago-based Oh My God follow admirably in that steadfast tradition. Their new release, put together in the aftermath of a series of touring (a near fatal van accident) and relationship travails, captures their current melodic running-on-empty sound in ten moody keyboard happy cuts. Where earlier band work primarily trafficked in a zippier sound, its new set is noticeably more subdued.

Suitably titled, The Night Undoes the Work of the Day (Split Red Records) features mid-tempo rockers propelled by Travis Bernard's sparely insistent stick work and melancholy slow 'uns, both reiterating the hard-learned truth that "nothing gets any easier." The perfect soundtrack for sitting up past your usual bedtime, contemplating your life and wondering what the hell happened.

In general, it's the rockers that prove more enduring, though "Bring Yourself" has a nicely Sunday insistent chorus that's pretty darn addictive. Better yet are the opener "My Own Adventure," with its air of tuneful street level paranoia; "Baby, Dream," which describes its hero daydreaming about an unrealized relationship with a girl who "plays the bass guitar like Sting: minimal;" and "I Dare You to Love Me," which challenges the object of singer/songwriter Billy O'Neill's affections with Foreigner-like urgency. The first is appealingly spiced with the group's trademark Jackson Browne-styled harmonies; the second with some echoey low-end guitar work by Jim Tullio; the last with a more aggressively churning guitar courtesy of Matt Lenny.

O'Neill and his keyboarding wielding collaborator Ig also dabble in a funkier playground with "Baby There's Nothin' Wrong (You Just Gotta Go to Work)," wherein our singer tries to nudge his depressed girlfriend into getting out of bed and returning to the job market. ("I'm sick of eating cheap food all the time/And sticking to the bargain basement wine," he explains.) Further in, they up the tempo to the Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" to the power pop level of their earlier discs, even though the acceleration lessens the sense of mystery of the original track.

As a singer, O'Neill brings a regret-soaked edginess to even the prettiest ruminative tracks -- check his work on the chorus to the Eastern-tinged "I Don't Think It's So Funny (How Time Slips Away)" -- which keeps you listening even through the maundering cuts. "I'm a gun-shy white guy, short on money," he succinctly describes himself in "Dream, Baby." Now there's a profile suited to this slice of the 21st century.


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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