By Eric Brown, Courier Music Critic
YouTube has been credited with exposing hundreds of millions of people to unique and obscure spectacles, from strangely behaving children to vicious scenes of nature on the African savannah. One of the more innovative and artistic YouTube sensations was OK Go’s music video for their song “Here It Goes Again”. The 2006 video features the band performing a choreographed routine on eight treadmills, has gathered almost 50 million views, and is sure to become one of the quintessential videos in music history. The band’s recordings are also strong—2002’s Ok Go and 2005’s Oh No are both excellent albums, blending edgy guitar riffs with a charming knack for catchy pop tunes. The same cannot be said of their latest release Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, which marks a departure from everything the band has gained praise and notoriety for.
Opening tracks often accurately signal the path of an album, and Sky’s starter follows this trend—“WTF?” (popular texting slang for “What the [expletive]?”) inspires feelings similar to its title among listeners, as does the rest of the album. Some of the track’s elements, including its decadent vocal harmonies, powerful rhythmic groove, and minimalist guitar line are acceptable, but for the most part the song is a failure. Singer Damian Kulash spends the entirety of “WTF?” in his falsetto; used sparing on OK Go’s previous records this was a tool in an already diverse arsenal, but Sky sees it used far past the point of acceptability. In addition, “WTF?” features obnoxious synthesizer lines, a terrible guitar solo (in terms of the filter chosen), and a ridiculous percussion break. The song is a mess, as is the rest of the album.
It is depressing to note that “WTF?” is among the better songs on Sky. Typically most albums feature can be broken down into sets of good, average, and poor songs. Sky is instead composed of three different sets of songs: the tracks that had potential, the tracks that clearly failed, and the tracks that are essentially unlistenable. Every track on the album lacks any form of artistic development or growth, so the quality of a song is solely determined by the strength of its initial musical statement. Among the better (though still painful) songs are “Needing/Getting”, “Skyscrapers”, and “Kathmandu”. All three exhibit strong melodic introductions and diverse instrumentation, but the latter two plod along for twice as long as they should and “Needing/Getting” chooses to develop in a completely incongruous and unpleasant manner. On “Last Leaf” Kulash sings one of the only memorable melodic vocals on Sky—meaning he does more than whine in falsetto—and harmonizes with only an acoustic guitar, introducing the best, yet still severely immature, track on the album.
The four-song sequence that is placed between “Skyscrapers” and “Last Leaf” constitutes the horrific core of Sky. “White Knuckles” boasts heavy synthesizers that are taken straight from an 80’s club. As bad as they are, the synthesizers aren’t the worst part of the song—OK Go’s harmonies are haphazardly and poorly constructed and sound like a deaf audio engineer mixed them. The band’s apathetic approach continues on the muddled “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe” and reaches new levels of atrociousness on “End Love”, which seems to adopt musical elements from the theme song for the television show Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Sky seems to have reached a stunning low point when listeners are presented with the worst track on the album, “Before the Earth Was Round”. Kulash utilizes computerized vocal filters that appear to be influenced by hip-hop sensation T-Pain. Once the dull instrumental lines on the track are accounted for, the song seems to be closer to a novelty track by the comedy group Flight of the Conchords than a legitimate effort by a respected rock group.
Perhaps one could find comfort in pretending that Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is a trivial gimmick, a one-off joke by an otherwise talented and promising band. This is not the case however—OK Go sounds as confident in their musical abilities as they ever have, ignoring the obvious fact that these skills are now gone. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is an unfortunate album and its stunning inferiority warrants considerations that OK Go may be dead, at least an artistically viable musical ensemble.