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The Ophelias - Crocus Music Album Reviews

The Ophelias - Crocus Music Album Reviews
The Cincinnati folk-rock quartet’s third album is artfully and interestingly composed, a snapshot of four people figuring out their identities both as individual humans and as a subtly defiant band.

For a folk-rock quartet that doesn’t rely on electronics or lush production, the Ophelias are hard to pin down. They can sound like Painted Shut-era Hop Along, early 2000s folk, or John Darnielle’s string-heavy modern releases as the Mountain Goats. Even the band’s story eludes catchy signifiers: Initial press claimed the band was made up of former “token girls” in their Ohio bands. Now, the Ophelias return as two women, one newly-joined non-binary bassist, and one trans male drummer. On their third album, Crocus, the band reflects this fluidity; the tense “Spirit Sent” starts out like toned-down PJ Harvey before concluding with layered strings; “Sacrificial Lamb” has adult-alternative hooks inside a lo-fi frame. Frontwoman Spencer Peppet grounds her bandmates’ kinetic energy with introspection, revisiting toxic relationships and dealing with her own self-worth. Crocus is a snapshot of four people figuring out their identities both as individual humans and as a subtly defiant band.

With all the constant movement of the quartet, it is entirely possible to miss the thoughtful, calculated journey Peppet makes across 37 minutes. It’s not officially a concept album, but there is something of a loose narrative: The album follows a series of desperate attempts at closure, devaluing and ruminating about an ex only to wind up missing them even more. Peppet’s legato delivery often abruptly switches at the end of a line, like someone about to escalate a fight before meekly changing course. There are conventional barbs like, “Holding you feels like a bomb went off in my chest,” or, “I was happy with the you in my head,” but the most intriguing depictions of post-breakup grief are the most abstract. “Twilight Zone” stretches the “you’re everywhere to me” trope to low-key absurdity (“I walk down my street/And the trees look like you”), before reprising the theme. On “Spirit Sent,” the first chorus whimsically describes a man witnessing Peppet’s soul traveling through the sky to meet an ex-partner. The ending of “Twilight Zone” is the one time where Peppet doesn’t stop her voice short and plainly admits, after the previous half-hour of moving on, “I’d love to see you.”

Drummer Mic Adams takes greater prominence than previous records, with a roomier sound recorded in a converted Masonic Lodge. Slow-burners “Vapor” and “Vices” in particular benefit from his newfound intensity, his urgency lending more weight to Peppet’s vocals. The band’s approach to arrangements is most effective on highlight “Becoming a Nun,” where a complex beat complements Andrea Gutmann Fuentes’s violins and Jo Shaffer’s three-note bass line. The auxiliary musicians, mostly Cincinnati locals, also play an important role, whether it’s Kate Wakefield sending “Nun” spinning or Jake Kolesar’s ominous melodica over an affectionate, backmasked voicemail from Mia Berrin of Pom Pom Squad on “Mastermind.” There’s a feeling that anything can happen in a song, but nothing that would detract.

If anything detracts from that feeling, it’s the recording and mixing itself, which often undersells the band’s capabilities. The piercing cymbals and midrange-heavy violins tend to drown out Peppet’s soft spoken melodies. “Neil Young on High” borders on sensory overload with the addition of guest vocalist Julien Baker’s harmonies. To some extent, the production style lines up with the intention of revisiting their early music, but it’s at odds with Peppet and the band coming into their own at the record’s best. The chorus of the final song goes “I wanted to be the one that you would take home to your parents/You called me up at two a.m. when I had no other vices,” and especially after the self-loathing of “Sacrificial Lamb” (“At my best, I’m a second-rate plan”), that individuation from a toxic ex is a quiet, unassuming achievement. Forget becoming a nun, becoming a spirit, becoming respectable for somebody’s parents: There’s nothing like chucking those roles aside and presenting yourself as you are. 
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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The Ophelias - Crocus Music Album Reviews The Ophelias - Crocus Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, October 06, 2021 Rating: 5

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