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Oh Sweet Nothings - Album Review: The Math

31 May 2021 // A review by Callum Wagstaff
"Completely DIY and 8 years in the making, “a tribute to the pipe dreams of the struggling indie artist”.
The tagline for The Math by Wellington based indie post-everything band Oh Sweet Nothings is a likeable description.

"Whimsical love songs for the depressed and self-obsessed" is another self-appointed descriptor and this plants me firmly

in the target market.

This band act self-aware; occasionally breaking some imaginary fourth wall that doesn't exist
in the post-internet world. There's a behind-the-scenes personality that bleeds out from between the DIY punkish, shoegazey, late 80's college rockish sound of Oh Sweet Nothings. Take for instance their unpretentious and endearing song titles like Shit Pt.1 (The Math).

The whole first half is an amazing collection of off kilter tempos and slanted rhythms. Electronic artifacts make the album sound like a broadcast coming in from an alien desert.

The first song sounds like it falls apart before it even gets started, but after a few repetitions you realize that IS the song. So  many of the rhythms are carefully and attentively crafted to sound like they're tripping over their own feet and running to catch up with their own fall and it's remarkable to listen to.

Maraca Attacker has another beat I would love to try to dance to live and a bombastic opening vocal provided in a Sonic Youth meets Interpol speak-croon that sounds increasingly like somebody talking to themselves in a rundown mansion with writing all over the walls. I also really appreciated the little glitchy bit right at the end (blink and you'll miss it).

I have to confess; I hate the Kazoo with a lazy passion. Having said that, She's All I (Once In A While) contains hands down the best kazoo playing I have ever heard.
3/4 time with snare beats that sound like they occasionally want to play 2/4 over top make it 
feel like a pirate ship in a surf beach. The lyrics split over bars in such a way that you can't figure out where a thought starts and stops - nothing is punctuated - just hyphenated.

The tempo shenanigans take a break for the first time all album for the chunky Britpop goodness of Shinbone. After the last 3 songs of legless, frenetic insanity they chose a killer track to settle into a groove on.

The whole song sounds like a transmission from an abstracted version of hell, or the Bermuda triangle. It's got attitude and
spunk and a great tension in the chorus bass line. This isn't the song I'd show my friends who love wibbly wobbly tempos, though it's definitely one I'd have to point anybody to that I was trying to get on board with Oh Sweet Nothings.

The Math Perfects the blend of slanted and straight beats with Cold Hands. While the first 3 tracks were super entertaining and interesting and Shinbone was a big fat hit, this track swims with off kilter beats that get interrupted by purposeful and propulsive banging.

This exact mixture of offbeat and onbeat makes those rare onbeat moments absolutely pop as head
banging bits that punctuate the unhinged stream of consciousness verbiage. The way the song curls up into a grimace at the mention of cold hands is super fun.

The Works takes a left turn into a more relaxed groove. The hi-hat is a bit too busy on this one, distracting from the liquid, languid feel, whereas the snare treatment adds to that atmosphere. Bass is the MVP of this song, delivering a steady supply of syrupy low-end to bask in. This point feels like the perfect time to switch down and The Works nails that place in the track list, adding extra depth points to the album.

There's a couple of tracks (Sealion and Perish The Thought) that retread some of the same ground and lose the sense of momentum before we get Shit Pt. 2 (dOMINO Et Pizza Est) which is a key moment in that fourth wall breaking, stream of consciousness character that shines through the cracks in the joints of the songs.

I would have liked it coming straight after The Works because it moves the narrative onto the beautiful Left. This song takes the groove that The Works had swimming in water and lifts it up into the air. This is the emotional climax of the album and pays off the groundwork laid by the preceding songs.

The Math could have ended here and it would have been super satisfying. However there was this weird anomaly of a song called Carousel, which starts off a bit more chunky and in the Shinbone area of residence but moves on to a warm place that feels similar to the emotional payoff that Left had.
It's definitely a good song, it was just difficult to come off the cloud
that the last song left us on, hump in the grit of another grunge tinged chunky song, then return back up to the clouds, though not quite as high as before we fell.

As the last track, Secret Spells, plays I'm still thinking about that high that I was feeling during the swells of Left.
Secret Spells feels like a perfectly good example of the "Whimsical love songs for the depressed and self-obsessed" but it's another good song that deserved a better place in a different album. Though I do really love the unglamorous snapshot of the process behind the music right at the end, thematically fitting this album really well.

The Math is a really compelling work with a bit of rind and skin tags still left on it. There were some bits that felt like they needed culling and some pieces in the puzzle that might have worked out being rotated into the album in a different way.

It felt like the climax happened a few songs before the end and that the journey could have been tighter. It was tough to feel that way because those ill-fitting puzzle pieces were still great songs and had a lot in common with the tone of the rest of the album.

Oh Sweet Nothings
 have a really distinctive, compelling and entertaining style and I'm an absolute sucker for the hall of mirrors that is their sense of rhythm and the homeless genius of the lyrical delivery. I feel like with a bit of honing to the formula we could see more perfect mutations like Cold Hands.

I also really hope to see another album from these guys.
There was  a sense like maybe after this being 8 years in the making it might be what you get, take it or leave it.
But there was so much gold in this songwriting that could really be crafted into something spectacular. I loved the way I felt going from Shit to Left via The Works and more Shit, and I really hope to feel a version of that again.
Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Oh Sweet Nothings

Oh Sweet Nothings are a Wellington-based indie/post-alternative/post-post-punk 3-sometimes-4-piece band, known for their whimsical and off-kilter approach to song-writing, as well as their erratic live performances.

Having spent many years lurking at the fringes of the Wellington underground scene, OSN are currently on the rise up out of obscurity and fast becoming prominent members of the music community.

Their debut EP, Emergency Procedures, due for release on October 17th, is the result of refining 4 years of chaotic bedroom jam sessions into a coherent sneak peak into a surreal and overblown auditory world, inhabited by dark truths and repressed desires.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Oh Sweet Nothings


The Math
Year: 2021
Type: Album
Emergency Procedures
Year: 2019
Type: EP

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