What could have been an epilogue is actually an entirely new chapter.
Mike Diver 2011
Album three from New York’s O’Death finds the rough-edged folk-punk quintet, all shiny eyes and bushy beards behind music that rings out with old-time values and contemporary bite, returning from the brink of potential dissolution. The band’s drummer, David Rogers-Berry, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in 2009, around touring in support of second LP Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin. But while the bone cancer could have sidelined the sticksman for good, several months of chemotherapy and a shoulder replacement have seen him through. And Outside is a celebration of his recovery – a great album on its own terms, and truly remarkable given how close it presumably came to never being made.
It marks a change in the creative process for the five-piece, frontman Greg Jamie making clear in pre-release publicity that this is the first time the band have recorded material ahead of trying it out on stage. This, surely, has much to do with the condition of Rogers-Berry, whose treatment meant the band going on hiatus for a full year. Their comeback at the 2010 Newport Folk Festival, where they appeared alongside the likes of Calexico and The Low Anthem, was widely acclaimed – evidence, if it was needed, that these musicians could craft fine tunes without road-testing them, trial-and-error style, across the bars and ballrooms of the USA. Gone, somewhat, is the disorder that came as a result of live genesis; instead, Outside’s songs are cautious, considered, deep where once the band was content to splash manically in the shallows.
As such, it’s not always the most instantly engaging of releases. Ourselves moves at a slow-march, brass rolling over gentle percussion while Jamie’s vocal delivery is more purr than bark; later, Pushing Out is a sparse arrangement which asks, "What if all our pleasures / Kept our heads apart?" It’s as if the physical has made way for the cerebral not just through necessity, but also because the band was finally ready to explore emotions that they might have previously circumnavigated – experience has caught up with them, and time away from performing has drawn each member inside of themselves. And Outside’s very organic mix allows these moments of introspection the space they need to breathe. Touching closer The Lake Departed sounds as if it could have been recorded anytime in the last 70 years, but is as relevant to today as anything that comes with an Auto-Tune gloss.
The band’s most personal release yet, Outside’s lasting impression is of a band that’s not simply overcome adversity to produce a worthy collection, but one that’s ready to go further still with their songwriting. This is the catalyst to do so, and what could have been an epilogue is actually an entirely new chapter.