Despite similarly shitty names and a common audience of hemp-head frat bros who spend weekends syncing up Aoxomoxoa with Short Circuit 2, O.A.R. and moe. aren’t the same band. As far as I can tell, O.A.R. are better: They’ve got a spirited saxophone guy who knows when to smoke a cigarette, and they aren’t afraid to bust out a ska rhythm when it feels right, which I must admit it does in “Wonderful Day,” a bouncy number about the time frontman Marc Roberge met “a mastermind of a terrible kind,” on the Ohio State–bred outfit’s fourth studio album.
Too-tight DMB snare cracks notwithstanding, a jam-band CD up-4 Stories of a Stranger is not: Bathroom-break solos are usually sacrificed to verse-chorus economy, and the choruses are pretty catchy. Listening to “Love and Memories,” you can imagine Roberge setting out after Train’s position as mush-rock royalty. (In “Nasim Joon” he describes catching “a train in a dash running hard from my past.”) Still, as with moe. and most bands in their cohort, much O.A.R. music feels infected with the compulsion to elevate schlock beyond Top 40 utility. I’d dig “The Stranger” ‘s refreshing sub-Wallflowers thrum more if it didn’t sound like willful condescension.
O.A.R. play Madison Square Garden January 14.