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Arts and Culture

Too Cute for Its Own Good

But still great! Behold "Otis" by Vancouver's The Oh Wells.

By Thom Wong 28 Apr 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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The Oh Wells - why on earth would anybody think they're twee?

The Oh Wells write music that sounds like it was commissioned for an iPod commercial (if they still made iPod commercials). In fact, "Closure", the fourth track off their debut EP, The EP That We Love, is essentially Yael Naim's "New Soul," the song that launched the first Macbook Air. I don't mean that they sound similar; I mean that you could play the first 10 seconds of either one and not be able to tell the difference. All of their songs sound like something you might have heard recently on the radio, but "Closure" is a derivative-music poster child.

If this seems like I'm not just damning them with faint praise, but simply damning them, I'm not. I think The Oh Wells are great, from their possibly too-cute-for-its-own-good name to their fondness for soon-to-be-anachronistic pop culture references. And I think they're great because before knowing anything about the band or hearing any of their music, I saw them live.

It's often said that the best meals are the ones you're not expecting. Certainly expectations are hard to avoid with music right now, when you're likely to have read an encyclopedia's worth of information on a band before you even hear a single note. So there's something a little magical about going to a bar to watch a hockey game, and instead seeing a group of what looks like 14 year-olds setting up a drum kit. (For the record the members of The Oh Wells are 20.)

And when you see The Oh Wells live, their derivativeness is completely overshadowed by their sheer enthusiasm and how, for the five songs of their EP, they play as an amazingly tight unit. The rhythm section in particular puts in a workmanlike performance behind lead singers-songwriters Sarah Jickling and Molly Griffin, lending the songs solidity. It's no surprise when their best number is also their most original -- "Otis" is a garage-bred, '50s style romp that Griffin sings like a house on fire, while Jickling adding some all too infrequently used harmonies. 

You can, and should, buy their EP on Bandcamp for $2.99. For that price you get one very good song, four pleasant ones, and the knowledge that you're supporting a local band that, if it embraces its talent and originality, will only get better.  [Tyee]

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