O’Death: The Sound of 1,000 Banjos Overtaking Brooklyn


When frontman Greg Jamie pinches his voice throughout O’Death’s third album, he’s channeling old, weird dudes whose songs might curl and twang from a remote Appalachian wireless. But he comes out sounding closer to Frank Black, who is also, at this point, old and weird, and might as well be beaming in from an imagined (and just as distant) college-radio station. Either way, no problem. Armed with the Arcade Fire pyro-dynamics everyone finds so addictive these days, the Brooklyn quintet remains as bombastic as you can get while still playing acoustic. The drums help. Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin only sounds like the Pixies once (during “Vacant Moan”), but that’s enough to earn the band a prominent entry in the Encyclopedia of Twentysomethings on a Deeply Romantic Quest for Authentic Raw Americana (see also: New Lost City Ramblers, the Band, Uncle Tupelo). Executing relentless arrangements with cranked junkyard precision (and transcending the merely sped-up folk of last year’s Head Home), O’Death move more into league with gypsy-hipsters like Gogol Bordello and Beirut. In the first minute of “Light That Does Not Dim,” Jamie flits between glossalia, actual lyrics, and a wordless, cracking falsetto, none of which matters over the insistent stomp, which seems to suggest that 1,000 string bands—locked in a room for 1,000 years with 1,000 banjos, washboards, etc.—might’ve accidentally invented the power-pop outro.

Jamie’s attention to detail makes him a sort of gothic Kurt Weill: “Although I am naked/Never before did I care,” he croons on “Mountain Shifts,” a grotesque Adam narrating his awakening in the post-Eden wilderness (maybe somewhere in West Virginia). The music is often cresting and joyous, implying sweating bodies careening through a space designed to hold half their number. Despite the banjos, this is not the music of a rural, open country—don’t expect O’Death to abandon Brooklyn anytime soon.

O’Death play the Music Hall of Williamsburg October 30