Album Review: The Ophelias Find Their Voice on ‘Almost’

Almost - The Ophelias
Almost - The Ophelias
Released in mid-2018, The Ophelias’ sophomore album ‘Almost’ is a record for the breaks; the innocent moments; the Saturday mornings with the Julia Child’s cookbooks; the afternoons off with the tassel toy and the cat; the Joanies who love their Chachis; the Rosses who love their Rachels, and the many bubble bathes they have together.

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This is a special record.

Not in an “album of the year” type of special, but a blossoming sophomore record special; like watching a time lapse of a pond lily, épanouissant and germinating along the canvases of Monet… At first slightly muddled, but quickly coming into focus. It takes all but two seconds to concentrate, and then as the mind goes still, the picture becomes clear.

Almost - The Ophelias
Almost – The Ophelias

Formed from a self-described collection of “token girls” of various Cincinnati DIY bands, four ladies take their name from an appropriate source: Ophelia of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As lyricist-and-guitarist Spencer Peppet detailed to Con Safos Magazine, “I think Ophelia kind of gets a bad wrap. She has a really nuanced storyline and they get kind of run-over in the story by all of Hamlet’s stuff. I kind of identify with that.” The Ophelias’ raison d’être, then, comes from a plain refutation of male-dominated storylines, both classical and modern; rock culture is just as steeped in the societal male-dominates that came before it. And stepping out of line, the Ophelias steep themselves on melancholy hill before rolling down to other sentimental vales and perspective crests. They are an organic demonstration of a countryside change and tonic as rock becomes infused more and more by identities other than the male sex-machine, a turn away from the monotone tractor of libido. A deep cleansing of the slopes mired in macho Monsantos muck.

The difference is like a shower; an unconscious cycle of natural refreshment and a conscious human moment trapped behind glass and tile, porcelain and polyester. To clean, be it five minutes or an hour. The mirror fogs up as the water jets effervescent; steam aspires and sticks to the ceiling cover; misty dreams of sauna days scatter out the crack of a window pane. Moping or thinking, there the time comes for a change: handle off, towel on; stand wet, shake dry; hair wild, face pink; the base cured, the top polished; look to the mirror canvased and design in fingers. Behind the condensation perspires a smile. The Ophelias are no longer shy to say how they feel about their ex:

You do what you don’t want
You ask can you call me
You act like you’re modest
You say what you don’t mean
-”O Command”
Stream: ‘Almost’ – The Ophelias

Almost as if guiltless in whatever emotional throe; crippling doubt, sublime peace, loving joy, brooding rage, silent scorn. They find nirvana in these bathetic but never maudlin melodies; perhaps this leads to a hint of sameness when the melancholic approach to these spirits never wavers, but if rock music does one thing to astound, it reveals many fountains and sources leading to an ever-expanding coast—all from that same approach. The coastal range may not apply to Spencer Peppet’s, Grace Weir’s, Micaela Adams’ and Andrea Gutmann Fuentes’ collective choirgirl vocals, but producer Yoni Wolf finds ways to balance the rock impulses of Peppet and Weir, with the punk fills of Adam and the orchestral talents of Fuente. The sound fidelity on this record is just impeccable and impermeable, weaving together moments for each instrument to shine, whether pulling Weir’s bass to front and duet with Peppet on “Night Signs,” then melting back Adams’ stomping affair with her kit or letting Fuentes’ violin twinkle and entrance moments all across the record — “Fog,” “Lover’s Creep,” “Lunar Rover” and “Moon Like Sour Candy” all awash with highlights. Peppet’s voice continues from their debut, unaided and unadulterated, just placed in center of cuts and let loose while the choral accents come in from the sides and then melt away, almost as if waves washing to-and-fro Peppet’s sea stacks lyrics and cracking a smile or even a grimace from the statue:

You can only like me when you’re drunk
The sky is open, my stomach stuck
Tongue like bubbles floating down my rotten skin
Don’t worry about it, I am trying
-”Moon Like Sour Candy”

The Ophelias may have this gallery of seaside tableaux, but it’s absolutely Wolf who helps curate it into life, none more so than on the core track, “Bird.”

It debuts slowly but when a single jangling stroke of Peppet’s guitar ripples like a disturbed pool. The uncanny warble of the strings recalls the conceit of Cornelius’ “Drop,” which samples bathsplashes as a base before slapping together a tolerable snare beat—if only the song were as tolerable a swim—instead the incessant and over pronounced squelches do nothing but waterlog ears otherwise trying to enjoy a rhythmic model of the waves; a classic case of simple missteps overriding an interesting concept. The Ophelias do not make that mistake. From those splish-strokes splashes the remainder of the instrumentation; all joining in to master the art of moving water: the snare double taps a downbeat stall before the tom-tom rims are smacked on lo-gain mikes, coating the audio behind an impermeable lo-fi wall. The vocals mask themselves in a dissonant reverb, which, combined with a deafening-softness volume, all work in concert to simulate a cut recorded under the water, if not dropped right into the pond.

And when this experiment ends, the Ophelias settle back into a baroque groove. Almost as if dreampop but instead chamber rock. Almost as if cloistered in a music hall listening to the Turtles, the Zombies, the Mama’s and the Papa’s too. Almost as if frolicking and rambling over the flower child fields and meadows, swimming along the babbling brooks of kids books and in the watering holes of yore only because they studied and matured from their debut; pursued instincts to a scarred but healthy place, a green vale between finished and perfected. Polished to glow, but not to sparkle and shine and blind and deafen. Real Estates of the world listen up!: hanky-jank pacing of self-contained recuts will get you nowhere. Almost is all there, how a thoroughly punchy psychedelic baroquepop record should sound; tracks coursing into each other, choral lyricism, more pianos, more violins, and less goddamn synthesizers. The music leads and the Ophelias follow, they sound like active participants in their music rather than passive carriers. Crafting experience in constant cantabile rather than trying to capture the jams in a photograph and leaving them lost, only celebrating the new years with new dust coats. Instead, the Ophelias remind listeners to take those memories out of the attic and turn them across the picturebook pages; to be childlike, even when the activities are adult-light — lest we dread them.

The Ophelias © 2018
The Ophelias © 2018

And despite an absolute rhythmic abhorrence of non-continuity, this is a record for the breaks; the innocent moments; the Saturday mornings with the Julia Child’s cookbooks; the afternoons off with the tassel toy and the cat; the Joanies who love their Chachis; the Rosses who love their Rachels and the many bubble bathes they have together. But this is also the record for the chores and the errands; the have-to-do’s but not the pressing must-do’s; the musical drown to the vacuum’s drone; the curated radio on the way to the bank; all the Jackies and the Hydes who can’t go on; all the Rachels on break from their Rosses and those plenty showers they take alone.

But in true wallflower fashion, Almost strikes as a more contiguous, soft-spoken, less laconic Chastity Belt effort; less Tawny Dean and more Rachel Green. It’s almost flower-Gothic, Almost; instead, the LP decides on gauche pittoresque; a creative writer instead of a hardcore lit nerd. And to ask it for any more would be to deserve less.

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:: stream/purchase Almost here ::

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Almost - The Ophelias

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