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The Ophelias - Almost Music Album Reviews

Featuring production assistance from Yoni Wolf of WHY?, the Cincinnati quartet’s second album uses bright surfaces to obscure sinister intentions, clothing dark songs in indie-pop innocence.

“Fun always comes at a cost,” Spencer Peppet warns in the opening line of the Ophelias’ “General Electric.” On paper, this sounds like good-faith advice, but in the context of the song, it’s creepy and menacing, delivered like a deke toast to an enemy Peppet is about to poison. Considering that the frontwoman and lyricist named her band after a tragically peripheral Hamlet character, perhaps the play and its many stealthy murders were on her mind again as she was composing the Ophelias’ second album, Almost. While the Cincinnati quartet’s 2016 debut, Creature Native, never hid its overcast mood, this follow-up uses brighter surfaces to obscure sinister intentions, clothing surprisingly dark songs in indie-pop innocence.

Almost is rooted in sounds from early 2000s: Peppet’s affection for clever, confessional lines paired with propulsive melody make Rilo Kiley-era Jenny Lewis an obvious reference point. But the Ophelias push their songwriting further, deconstructing each musical element and distorting these constituent parts with a fun-house mirror approach that occasionally recalls the Books. Two of the album’s first three tracks are in a 6/8 time signature, and the other is in an even less common 6/4; drummer Micaela Adams treats each of the six notes per bar as an opportunity to improvise, playing hopscotch across her tom, snare, and cymbals. “Lover’s Creep” stitches sections together with unintelligible snippets of a male voice, ghostly and screwed up, in a faint but haunting touch of weird nostalgia.

A collaboration with fellow Cincinnatian Yoni Wolf of WHY?, who first happened upon the Ophelias playing in a park, Almost has moments that vividly recall his band’s poppy 2009 album Eskimo Snow. Wolf is credited with co-producing, mixing, engineering, and contributing percussion to the Ophelias’ record, but it’s easy to see how the mere presence of a xylophone-happy veteran songwriter whose best work airs what he’s characterized as “shit I won’t admit to my head shrinker” might also have nudged their mood and sound in unexpected directions. You can hear Wolf’s influence in the album’s first big break-open moment, on “General Electric,” when a flock of shiny glockenspiels swoops in from out of nowhere.

But not even a metallophone can establish the twee atmosphere that the Ophelias make it their mission to disturb and debase as effectively as violin. So it makes sense that the contributions of violinist and pianist Andrea Gutmann Fuentes form the backbone of Almost. By the album’s final track, “Moon Like Sour Candy”—as Fuentes’ plaintive violin underscores cute-then-revolting lines like “Tongue like bubbles floating down my rotten skin”—that spine is in desperate need of a chiropractor.

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