September 28, 2004

Graves "Yes Yes OK OK"

Graves is the nom de rock of Greg Olin, a Portland, OR songwriter who seems to have lots of friends in high places. The liner notes of his sophomore album Yes Yes OK OK are peppered with the names of personnel from local outfits like Yume Bitsu, the Dirty Projectors, and Desert City Soundtrack. These names, combined with the fact that the connoisseurs of quietude at Hush Records were kind enough to release this album, should give you some clues as to what you can expect from Graves: hushed songs with a peculiar attitude toward the art of arrangement. Olin sings in a slightly flat and raspy voice (mostly) about love and strums first-position chords on his acoustic guitar while his friends back him up on a myriad of instruments, from drums to distorted keyboards to mariachi-style trumpets. Despite the lush instrumental backdrops, many of the songs on the album actually sound like exercises in minimalism.

Opener “The Will Now” begins with two verses in which Olin knocks off imagistic couplets about his desire for a monogamous relationship: “I’m gonna cut your name into a willow/I’m gonna push your face into my pillow.” After a chorus of “I‘m gonna settle down,” he repeats the first verse, but this time singing only the first three words in each line before stopping. It almost sounds as if he‘s letting the listener fill in the blanks, which only makes it more powerful when Olin resumes singing full sentences by repeating the chorus. The first two verses of “Connection Time” don’t begin to make sense until you hear the third, in which Olin tries to convince a girl to have sex with him: “Buttons aren’t forever, girl/Zippers, they always rust/Slow is for the patient few/Let’s hurry as we must.” It’s the kind of move that I bet David Gedge wishes he’d thought of first. On these two songs, Olin gets away with singing only as many words as necessary to get his point across.

Unfortunately, the rest of Yes Yes OK OK confuses musical Cubism with lazy songwriting. Lyrics like “It’s hard doing the love thing” and “Shit was cool and then it wasn‘t” are meant to come off as stoic and plainspoken but end up sounding stupid. The whole album can be played with six guitar chords, and neither the lyrics nor the music are adventurous enough to keep the songs from blurring into one another. This sameness makes the 28-minute album sound longer than it actually is. The laziness even creeps into the actual tracking and editing. “Holding Your Arms” begins with a false start and a tape dropout, “”Headphone Brigade” is cut off right in the middle of a bad drum solo, and Olin bursts into laughter right in the middle of the chorus of “Strength in Numbers” (which isn’t a funny song at all). I’m all for leaving mistakes in if they sound cool but, in Graves’ case, the intentional flaws only underscore how listless every other facet of Olin’s music is. Olin’s friends may have taught him how to dress a song up really nicely, but they haven’t given him enough tips on how to write one.

--Sean Padilla

Label Website:

No comments: