Four years ago, O’Brother released Endless Light, which was the absolute highlight of their career.
Now the band is ready with a follow-up, which not only marks the departure from Triple Crown Records after a three-album-run, but it also marks band’s first self-released album.
But that’s not only major departure for the band anno 2020. You and I is produced by Manchester Orchestra’s Robert McDowell and Andy Hull and off the bat it’s clear that the new album is a noticeable step in a new direction.
Sonically, the genuine rawness and live-performance vibe of Endless Light is gone and more rounded and generic sound characterizes the new album. At first it takes few minutes to get over the initial surprise, of not being met with that recognizable sound, the sound that so eminently captured the vitality of musicians playing together. Playing real instruments in a recording studio and not just plugged in into a computer.
But by the time the second song “Soma” unfolds half-way through it’s clear that there is a purpose with this change and that the band delivers just as much intensity and vulnerability with this approach. You & I feels as intimate and as dynamic as Endless Light, but it acheovs that by using quite different approaches and tools. As mentioned before the overall feel is more smooth-edged, but there is also room for noisy distorted guitar outbursts. However, focus of the album is based around vocals, keys and rather quiet gorgeous guitar sections. The true backbone of the album lies in astonishing songs-writing and outstanding production and arranging work. The genuine strength of the latter two aspects lies not only in the impeccable execution, but rather in the way it supports the core of the songs and lets then unfold in whatever direction they require.
The feeling of authenticity and wholehearted involvement is ever-present and while the heavier aspects are far fewer and feeling of a live performance is absent, there is darkness, intimacy and nonetheless massive intensity that in its own right makes up for it. And truth be told the approach fits the material to such a degree that one can’t help but think the approach from Endless Light, wouldn’t serve the songs as well.
This does, however mean that the album rocks far less and that might be a deal-breaker for some listeners. For the rest of us, we can just be grateful that the band is back with new material and that they are evolving as artist. Oh yeah, also that You and I, can proudly stand next to its predecessor, which just happens to be one of the finest releases of entire 2016. How about that?