OK Go | Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
Most Likely To: be played by a Prince tribute band.
With producer Dave Fridmann (of Flaming Lips and MGMT fame) on board, OK Go’s Of the Blue Colour of the Sky feels considerably more mature than their previous two releases. The band that once relied on treadmills and clever dance moves to catapult them to internet stardom now employs heavy doses of reverb and complex string arrangements to create dense, textured songs. Here we see a new side of OK Go, one that pushes past the superficial pop that songs like “Invincible” and “Here We Go Again” so perfectly embodied. Beyond the familiar elements, like the call-and-response vocal arrangements and singer Damian Kulash’s clever lyricism, electronic instrumentation gives the album an altogether different tone.
Their 2005 release, Oh No, felt comfortable in an indie rock box. Of the Blue blurs the genre line, owing largely to the Fridmann electronic arsenal. On a slower, 3/4 number entitled “Before the Earth Was Round,” syncopated rhythms and breathy digital keys are offset by vocoded robo-vocals ala Daft Punk. “End Love” could have been made by Prince in the mid-’80s. Arpeggiated analog blips and shimmering digital strings ring out beneath Kulash’s falsetto that sings, “And it’s end love/The sky is falling.” That Prince quality appears again on the first single from the album, “WTF?” When the band cuts out at the end of the chorus and Kulash sings, “There’s just this thing about ya,” it could be The Purple One himself.
Still, all is not lost for fans of the classic OK Go power pop. “This Too Shall Pass,” despite the fuzz bass and verbed out vocals, could just as easily come from an earlier album, and “Back From Kathmandu” is almost certainly from a previous session, despite the production elements. “Last Leaf,” a tender acoustic number, sounds as though it were recorded live, right next to the treadmills in Kulash’s living room. On “Needing/Getting,” when the volume drops and the band sings in unison what is perhaps the most memorable lyric from the album, “It don’t get much dumber/Than trying to forget/A girl when you love her,” it’s classic OK Go. Much has changed, but at the heart of it, Of the Blue is still very much an OK Go album.
It truly feels like a collaboration between the band and Fridmann. His distinctive style of mixing–copious amounts of reverb to create space and depth, more pads than a middle school cheerleading squad–blended with their hooks and catchy melodies is never more apparent than on “White Knuckles.” Funky rhythms, a ripping guitar solo, and Kulash’s smooth-as-silver delivery are accentuated by Fridmann’s clicks, pops, and a sweeping synth sound on the chorus. The things fans have come to love are still there, but interspersed with the blips and beeps that give it a detailed, finished sound. No wonder its been five years since their last release; there’s nothing simple about Of the Blue.
Overall, it will take some getting used to for OK Go fans. What we’ve come to expect has been replaced by something different, and that’s never easy to swallow. But the musicianship and songwriting ability they’ve always brought us remains the same. They’ve grown, it’s true, but so have we. Since the release of Oh No, we’ve discovered MGMT, Passion Pit, Crystal Castles, Friendly Fires, Santigold, and countless others. The musical tastes of indie audiences around the world have shifted, and Of the Blue Colour of the Sky reflects that change. It’s like talking with an old girlfriend after a long time apart: she still says “anyways” instead of “anyway,” but now she talks about the complexities of a single-payer option instead of the color of her prom dress. Maybe you won’t love it, but you have to hear it to be sure.
Watch the video for “WTF” below: