Ou – one Review

Fuck the rules1—that’s the rough translation of OU’s mission statement. Steeped in the streets of the Beijing jazz scene, OU (pronounced “O”) has emerged with a debut that challenges head-on the stagnant energy of the modern prog space2. Over the course of some years, primary songwriter and drummer Anthony Vanacore collected friends from clubs and his day job as a music teacher, each recruited member adding a special flavor that they could finally meld together as one. From in-the-pocket rhythms to ethereal arpeggio reverberations, to a vocal performance that’s as upfront as it is hypnotic, this astonishing offering lays out a platter of proggy and ambient delights. Striking a masterful balance of joviality, tranquility, and ferocity, OU have emerged from the underground to spread their idiosyncratic brand of futureprog. No solos necessary on this boundless journey3.

OU has carved a sound all to their own while showing shades of love for other contemporary progressive acts. Like a hyperpop infected Haken, OU weaves ever-present exuberant synth layers amongst adjacent grooves on heavy-hitters like ”Farewell 夔” and ”Prejudice 豸.” This maximalist mindset also draws comparison to the more kinetic work of the ever-zany Devin Townsend—recklessly colliding layers of blown-out kick, fret-rattling strings, and restless patches (”Travel 穿”, ”Mountain 山”). While other recent releases have flirted with heavier doses of vocal manipulation (Pain of Salvation Panther, An Isolated Mind A Place We Cannot Go), lead mouth machine Lynn Wu plies and contorts her incantations as wantonly as an artist like The Knife, with not a single metal front person standing close to her level of abandon. Each moment brings a new, unexpected experience—as a result, slowly but surely, the serene and stimulating one wormed its way into my near daily rotation.

Wu’s heavily modulated intonations set OU on a platform all their own. Rather than worry about always sounding pleasant or menacing, Wu’s vocal lines emulate instrumental melodies, often receiving pitch-shifting, cutting, and other affecting accouterments to fill and pierce the mix (”Farewell 夔”, ”Dark 灵”). On the towering ”Mountain 山”, where the going is already intense, OU serves us Wu’s voice layered or multi-tracked, with each verse building track upon track of escalating emotion. For the ethereal sections of ”Ghost 灵” and ”Light 光,” Wu’s noises—not even words at many points—exist minimally accompanied, being treated as the driving force similar to methods of an experimental artist like Björk. And as a standout moment (in an album full of them) Wu breaks a bout of ambience on the second half of one by emulating a doorbell or welcome chime with the abrasive yet mesmerizing intro to ”Dark 暗.”

Naturally, like the seasoned jazz musicians they are, the rhythmic backbone of Vanacore and bassist Chris Cui rocks tight and tidy, letting the remaining frequencies flourish and float. As the composer for the many electronic layers that embellish one, Vanacore often aligns deep synth pulses with his odd-meter kicks to round out the low-end shuffle (“Travel 穿”, “Mountain 山”), allowing triumphant melodic lines to rise unencumbered. On other songs where guitarist Jing Zhang leads the attack (“Farewell 夔,” “Prejudice 豸”), Cui dances in between Vanacore’s leading snares and tom runs to maintain the grooving aura. Vanacore does take a moment to show off the breadth of his kit with the powerful percussion eruption that drives the first half of “Euphoria 兴”—but it’s still simply a tasteful build to a dream-like crescendo, void of his sticks but not of mystique.

Unquestionably, OU has set a high bar for themselves and the prog world at large. In a scene where aging genre stalwarts have long since put their best days behind them, OU represents a young vibrant future from a country often disconnected with an international audience. While their name may not be the most search-friendly, I’m certain their success will erase that concern4. Like a glutton, I’ve been indulging in the masterful meditations of one, but I’m more than happy now to watch OU ascend into conversations between metalheads everywhere.

Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: InsideOut Music
Websites: outheband.com | facebook.com/ou.theband
Releases Worldwide: May 6th, 2022

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Except the rules about word counts, banned words, and rounding down, of course.
  2. I am so tired of being bait-and-switched with things labeled prog that are just nu-chug djentcore.
  3. No English necessary either. The lyrics are all in a dialect of Chinese, but the band was kind enough to provide both an English and Chinese lyrics sheet!
  4. They could always change their name to OOOUUU
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