(O) - Meraki Review by Steve Cowan June 2022
(O) is the enigmatic electro guise of two musicians from Lincolnshire, whose names are deliberately left out of their online presence to retain an air of mystery. Or maybe they're just shy. Either way, their coming together in the Winter of 2021 has resulted in their debut album Meraki being released at the end of May 2022. Snippets of tracks were drip-fed via YouTube, with some visuals that alluded to an overarching visual narrative at play, but it was difficult to get a grip on the songs from just a minute of audio each. Thankfully, I can now hear the full album via their Bandcamp page (justobetweenbrackets.bandcamp.com/album/meraki).
In an era of curated playlists, singles, and the general movement away from the album as a listening experience, it's nice to see the older guard sticking to this format. An album is more than a collection of singles; it is a creative statement. There is an art to arranging the flow of songs to guide the listener through a narrative and reach a satisfying conclusion (even if there is no strong connective tissue between them). I fear one day this may be lost. So, kudos to (O) for creating an album that has obviously been studiously sequenced as much as the songs have been carefully crafted.
Musically, (O) deal with heavy synths and vocal melodies reminiscent of the artists that eschewed pop fluff for the headier themes tackled by the socio-political acts of the late 70s and early 80s. That's not to say that this is mired in all-too-serious subjects told through the medium of dirges. No, there is a strong sense of melody at the core of Meraki that is sometimes at odds with its darker lyrical themes. At times romantic - not New Romantic - there is a wistfulness outside of the oppressiveness. This is a welcome balance, and one I hope to see carried over to future work from these guys. That's not to say that there aren't any darker musical pieces on offer; indeed, songs like Long Road are about as dirge-some as it gets, and perhaps are in danger of derailing the listening experience as they don't quite achieve the right balance of darkness and melody to my ears. Thankfully, missteps of this sort are infrequent; Missiles of Love, the album closer, almost suffers from the same fate, but is rescued by both captivating song writing, and some interesting production techniques.
Besides (O)’s worship of synths, the use of guitar on these tracks are equally effective in their sparing usage. And, while I prefer the sounds of guitars in general to synths, it's appropriate for Meraki's sound to use them as accents rather than a focus. They add to melodies and create dynamism, rather than being omnipresent and dominating.
These songs have been produced with care and (O) are a proficient song writing duo. The production on Meraki is nice and clear, with plenty of space for each instrument and voice to shine. v92dvg have a history of releasing crisp-sounding recordings, all handled in-house, and this is no exception. Dynamics are often forgotten in the modern era, with producers brick-walling songs so that their wave form looks like a hose pipe. As a result, listening through headphones can bring on ear fatigue quickly. There is no such issue here; listening to the whole album on headphones was a rich and pleasant experience.
This is an album I shall return to, while I hunt out hidden melodies in the layers; it’s perhaps easy to assume the songs are simple and, on the surface at least, I guess they are. However, both lyrically and musically, there are depths to be discovered. Enjoyment can be had either way, of course, as the songs provide enough on first listen to be captivating and are borderline earworms in some cases. But, as with all good music, delving deeper provides rich rewards. Standout Songs: Our Story, Let Love In, Valentine