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Ovlov - Tru Music Album Reviews

On their first album in half a decade, Steve Hartlett and his reunited band of fuzz-rockers turn up both the overdrive and the emotion, fortifying tender songs with muscular squall.

Ovlov just weren’t made for these times, though that has more to do with singer/guitarist Steve Hartlett’s humble career ambitions than his 1990s indie-rock comfort-food aesthetic. At a time when once-independent musicians can resemble overworked content creators forced to feed the internet-industrial complex with a constant stream of songs and selfies, Hartlett has adhered to a policy of striking up the band only when it feels right.

Since cropping up on the East Coast DIY circuit in 2009, amassing the sort of fervent cult fanbase that gets tattoos in their honor, Ovlov have had to break up a number of times in order to keep it together. Their most recent disintegration, in March 2015, seemed to suggest a greater degree of finality, however, with Hartlett expressing his uneasiness with demanding a full-time-band commitment from the revolving roster of friends and family members that have helped him realize his creative vision. But after redirecting his energies to his solo project Stove, he returned to Ovlov’s Facebook page in early 2016 to sheepishly announce an intention to reunite the band, “sometimes but not all the time.” Ironically, that commitment to be non-committal has since yielded two years of steady touring, a vinyl compilation of their early EPs, and now, Ovlov’s first proper album in half a decade.

The division between Ovlov and Stove was always blurry—the former may lean on Dinosaur Jr. overdrive while the latter wobbles on a rickety Guided by Voices foundation, but both ultimately forge a symbiotic relationship between Hartlett’s crestfallen melodies and his fuzz-pedal abuse. While Stove began as a wholly solo endeavor, it quickly formalized into a proper band in its own right—one whose bassist, Michael “Boner” Hammond Jr., is part of this current Ovlov line-up. But with Tru, Hartlett soundly reasserts Ovlov’s signature strength: the band’s ability to fortify tender songs with muscular squall in a way that doesn’t obscure their emotional intent, but amplifies it. Harlett’s songs tend to deal in themes of loneliness, estrangement, and the inability to communicate, and the onslaught of noise ultimately serves to make that desire for connection feel all the more cruelly out of reach.

Compared to its 2013 predecessor, am, the new album is less late-’80s Dino Jr., more early-’90s Sebadoh: While Ovlov are still as wonderfully wooly ever, they’re unleashing the noise in more purposeful, sculpted spurts and displaying a greater willingness to let their melodies sparkle through the clouds of distortion. Tuneful, feedback-slathered surges like “Half Way Fine” and “Spright” feel as comfortable as a beaten-up pair of Chuck Taylors, introducing dramatic dynamic shifts and savvy melodic change-ups to keep you on your toes. You may not always be able to make out Hartlett’s lyrics amid the cyclonic fuzz, but the despondence and disillusionment in his voice always cut through loud and clear. And when he can’t quite find the right words, he and fellow guitarist Morgan Luzzi unleash that simmering angst through nonverbal means, like the roiling guitar tsunami that brings the hazy-headed “Baby Alligator” to a cataclysmic close.

While Tru may initially favor a more patient, mid-tempo pace than the band’s previous work, it eventually achieves the same levels of joyride abandon. “Stick” proves that Ovlov need not blow out their amps to deliver the white-knuckled thrills, with the song’s pin-pricked guitar refrain tiptoeing atop a cascading motorik rhythm like a walker on a wire. And on its second side, Tru hits its exhilarating peak with the frantic stomper “Fast G” and the absolutely sublime “Short Morgan,” where Hartlett’s continuous, single-sentence lyrics snake through the light-speed jangle of the verses en route to a seismic, rocket-launching chorus.

Following that adrenaline spike, Ovlov grant themselves a deserved comedown in the form of “Grab It From the Garden,” a grungy, slow-motion ballad that, at nearly seven minutes, is practically twice as long as everything else that precedes it. The extended length is easily accounted for by the climatic, Mascisian sludgefeast that eats up the track’s second half—but in Ovlov’s case, it feels like less a display of guitar heroics than a violent purging of all the complicated emotions that Harlett has been wading through over the course of the record. It ultimately reinforces the idea that, for Harlett, making a new Ovlov record isn’t simply a matter of finding the right players and amassing the sufficient number of songs; it’s about waiting until his internal reservoir of pent-up frustrations and messy feelings is ready to burst.

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