Album: Through the Deep, Dark Valley
Artist: The Oh Hellos
Skip To: Wishing Well or Second Child, Restless Child
Before I actually dive into what makes this album stupendous, I have to give a little tribute to the Oh Hellos. Since I started listening to their music three years ago, they’ve opened a whole new world of music to me, are half the reason this blog exists, and their lyrics have profoundly touched my life at difficult moments. I say without hesitation that they are my favorite band of all time, and watching their live performance only solidified that. While I could write forever just about the concert, I’ll try to keep it to highlights: it didn’t feel like I was watching a band perform. It felt like the band and audience were hanging out together, having the time of our lives playing incredible music. While siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath write and record the music themselves, they tour with a rotating group of friends, and at the concert I attended, nine band members were jammed onto a tiny little stage in a nightclub. But they never let that diminish their energy and by the end, a few of them just jumped off the stage and played in the audience. They weren’t cocky, just folks having a grand old time and letting us be a part of it.
Right from the start, this album pulls in the listener with a shock of folk rock and very full music, many different instruments and voices layered over each other. “The Valley” builds throughout the first verse with layered instrumentation, but as it seems about to peak in the chorus, it backs off suddenly with Maggie’s lovely voice, and it continues to surprise the listener with unexpected builds and drops. The Oh Hellos, with the use of instrumental builds, create stunning suspense throughout their songs. Each track has direction, always moving toward an ultimate goal. Even quieter tracks such as “Wishing Well,” “In Memoriam,” and “The Lament of Eustace Scrubb” all have full conclusions.
Just like the songs themselves, the album as a whole has its own builds and drops, as the energy of “The Valley” drops immediately into the acoustic “Like the Dawn.” The energy builds back up again through the subsequent tracks, “Eat You Alive” and “Second Child, Restless Child,” only to once again back down into quieter tracks, then build back up to the epic finale, “Valley (Reprise).”
But perhaps what I value most about this album is its stunning lyrics. I just described the musical arc for the album, but that musical arc tracks with the story arc of the lyrics. While there is not per se a single cohesive story, each song seems to be a moment from a character’s past as they seek to find redemption and meaning in their more difficult experiences in life and the wrongs they have committed. And while not every song is necessarily happy, the album as a whole is uplifting and hopeful and leaves the listener with a kind of positivity that isn’t feigned or unrealistic. Overall, I can’t say enough about this fantastic work. I’m sorry for the longer review this week, but this is one of my favorite albums. It is truly wonderful, and I hope you enjoy it as well.