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On Second Listen: Oh Land – Oh Land

on June 04, 2011, 8:00am

The state of pop music today feels more and more restrictive. Artists who garner huge success feel pressured to repeat the same work in hopes of repeated profit. These performers are cloned as well, leading to the presence of the same product with the same producers, but under a different name. That’s a damn shame for many reasons, but the main one today is that it makes the path more difficult for an excellent musician like Oh Land. Her self-titled debut is a masterful combination of pop, dance, and experimental electronica that is both unfamiliar but centered enough in melodies and hooks to surpass nearly any Top 40 act.

Oh Land‘s got everything here. Want to dance? “Sun of a Gun” layers a vocal echo over a disco beat that builds into the catchiest chorus you’ll hear this year. Piano and bells create a charming rhythm that counteracts the repeated vocal distortions. Lines like “You can make the blue sky blush” are easy to remember but not generic dance fodder. “Voodoo” is the sound of the galaxy fed through a synth, taking a Daft Punk keyboard and riding it over an industrial drumblast. “We Turn It Up” is the oddest and funkiest of the bunch. The chorus ties vocal yelps to a xylophone pattern, giving the song a welcoming but slightly alien feel.

Listening on your headphones? The album’s opener, “Perfection”, is awash in fairy-tale strings and hip-hop beats. Harps gentle strum along, adding a subtle layer to the background. “Break the Chain” is surrounded by tenser instrumentation. The guitar plays out a short, repeating riff that sounds like a warning. The glorious “White Lights” is basically a happy song. Cheery keys. Cheery strings. Cheery vocals. It’d be too sugary without the jungle drumbeats keeping everything grounded. It’s an uplifting, joyful song that dares you to not smile while listening. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a clear, summer evening.

Looking for a slower number? “Lean” is full of weighty piano chords that pull against Oh Land’s outstanding, ascending vocals. Strings float around the melodic keys, becoming the audible equivalent of fireflies in the distance on a moonless night. “Wolf & I” starts appropriately enough with a soothing howl. The beat comes in like a leaking faucet, steady and sluggish. The rhythm adds more flares and touches as time goes on, but the whole song is still quite mystical. It’s almost like a song sung before a seance in a metallic future.

With a gift for rhythm, melody, and variety, Oh Land has crafted one of the finest pop records this century. Every track offers something new, but never strays too far into random experimentation. With any luck, she’ll be the next (and one of the long-lasting) faces in the future of the genre. Pop music definitely needs more innovators and this is the artist who should lead the charge.

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