Audio Mixer: Charlie Kramsky.
On their second album, Dear Wormwood, the Heath siblings and their jolly band of musical merry-makers return with a rousing set inspired by C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. In that 1942 novel, the titular devil Screwtape composes a series of missives to Wormwood, a young demon-in-training, instructing him how to corrupt a young man. Temptation and corruption are the dangers here, as the young Christian band uses voice and song to rebuke demons similar to those hard at work in Lewis' seminal book.
From the thumping heartbeat of the opening "Prelude" to the barn-burning closer "Thus Always to Tyrants," the Oh Hellos deal song after song of theatrics soundtracked by a plucky backwoods twang. Throughout the album's journey, the band transports the listener to another time and other places: a lazy river, a field of wildflowers at dawn, a woodland glen surrounded by fireflies. The imagery is as rich for the imagination as it is for the ears.
Sometimes overwhelming, their pure energy is best witnessed at their live shows, when the stage becomes home to a multitude of instrumentalists fitting for a good old hoedown. This passion is especially palpable on Irish pub jam "Soldier Poet King." Such celebratory tracks full of "whoa-oh!"s and simultaneous instrument-bashing ("Bitter Water," "Exeunt") are balanced by others aimed to give listeners a rest. Standouts like "Caesar" (a haunting dirge that recalls the most vulnerable Sufjan Stevens) and "Pale White Horse" (highlighting Maggie Heath's best Joanna Newsom) are overwhelming not in their power, like many tracks on this album, but in the deliberate buildup and tension. Thus, the album becomes most rewarding when experienced as a single listen, when transitions, like the one from "Pale White Horse" into the explosive "Where Is Your Rider," can truly be appreciated.
On the title track, the Oh Hellos (all of them) declare in a wall of voices, "I know who you are now/I name you my enemy/I know who I am now/I want to be more than this devil inside of me," closing with an exuberant and triumphant cry to the heavens. Although Screwtape starts each of his missives with "Dear Wormwood," the Oh Hellos flip things around and shout at that novice devil: he cannot have their souls. It's a subtle expression of their evangelical devotion, allowing the sheer power of the music and lyrics to carry their message without turning away fans of secular music. These songs are heavy on the drama, but the conviction with which the band delivers each one borders on glorious rapture. ~ Neil Z. Yeung