Oberhofer – “Time Capsules II” Review

Artist: Oberhofer
Album: Time Capsules II
Label: Glassnote


There are records which take time to reveal themselves, to ingratiate themselves into the listeners mind. These can be dense genre exercises or simply an album by a band you’re not all that familiar with. Last years Black Up by Shabazz Palaces and New History Warfare Volume 2: Judges by Colin Stetson were two amazingly dense examples of these kinds of records, definitively brilliant but appreciably standoffish. And then there are records which make a concerted effort to please, to exist just for the pleasure of the listener. These records have an almost preternatural ability to know what the listener wants and to give it to them. And ever since I heard “Away Frm U” back in 2010, I was anxiously waiting for Oberhofer, née Brad Oberhofer, to release a full length debut that capitalized on the goodwill which that song engendered. And finally, it seems my patience has been rewarded with Time Capsules II, an undeniably likable album that deftly winds its way through Oberhofer’s psyche and emotional baggage, both good and bad, and allows us a short period of time with the singer that seems as intimate and unguarded as any record I’ve heard this year. A good reference point would be any album by The Pernice Brothers, who have an uncanny ability to marry honestly direct lyrics to sugary, summery pop music. And while Time Capsules II may be more overtly dense and orchestral than The Pernice Brothers (think Arcade Fire-lite), the core aesthetic is the same.

The sprightly, tinkling piano-led album opener “Heart” sounds deceptively familiar. The bare components here have been used by countless bands in countless other songs. So there’s no doubt that Oberhofer is an amalgam of his influences, as we all are, but he is able to turn those influences to his advantage and not let them simply be musical waypoints for the listener to recognize. He realizes the need to use these acknowledged influences to build something unique, something entirely his own. As such, the percussion on this song, while seeming to come straight out of the Animal Collective handbook, is twisted and angular, though never unpleasant, and builds momentum as the song progresses, leading to the stop-start crescendos that pepper much of the songs on this album and is wholly his own. Follow-up track “Landline” doesn’t fall far from this pattern of recognizable yet creatively realigned influences. With its ringing guitars and chugging percussion, it delivers on the promise of “Heart” as a fully realized idea instead of just retreading the sounds and ideas of the artists that Oberhofer so obviously admires.

“Away Frm U” still has the urgency and glistening pop veneer that permeated the version which floated around the internet in 2010.  Those surging guitar lines and ghostly vocals float among the quieter moments and then burst forth to surround the listener in a haze of reverb and echo.  “I Could Go” begins with a delicate see-saw guitar line, whistling, and what sounds like a glockenspiel(though I could be wrong about that), then rushes into a mass of fuzzed-out whoo-hoo’s that lead into the verses.  Swirling masses of xylophones and toy percussion ripple through the song lending it an air of naivety that belies its downbeat lyricism.

The album does however seem to be a bit top heavy, with the later songs slightly melding together in a pleasant, if predictable, way.  The exception to this is “Haus”, with it martial drum beat and chiming elastic guitar, needling its way across Oberhofer’s twangy vocals.  It sparks a late album run that includes album closer “Homebro” which feels much like a porcelain heirloom, beautiful and fragile but of great worth to those who know the value.  Even here, he straddles the line between paying homage to his musical heroes and creatively absorbing and restructuring those same artists’ sounds.

It’s that delicate balancing act of adhering to his own musical identity among his influences that makes Time Capsules II resonate so well, instead of just limping along on the backs of its immediate musical reference points. Nearly half of this album is composed of re-edited versions of songs that had already been released as far back as 2010, and these original versions gleaned their intensity and energy from their gritty and somewhat grainy production. And while Steve Lillywhite’s glossier production has sacrificed some of Oberhofer’s initial lo-fi leanings, as well as some of his immediacy, it seems only a minor point of contention. The core of what made his early songs so memorable is still here. And if the album can at times be nothing more than a pleasant blur, especially in the second half, Time Capsules II can be forgiven for this due to the forceful personality of Oberhofer and the conviction that he places throughout these songs.  As creative and emotionally resonant a debut as this album is, I believe his best is still to come.  And when it does, it’s going to be a hell of an album.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

written by Joshua Pickard

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