Changing your name to something as unsearchable as O may seem like an odd choice for a rising band in 2014, but the three-piece San Francisco group formerly known as Black Cobra Vipers made the switch for pretty sensible reasons.
After enlisting Richard Barns (the same man responsible for naming The Who) for help, he offered them the name “O” on account of its head-turning and interpretive nature. To add, in the ever-expanding universe of Internet buzz bands, a symbol as simple as a circle may stand out more than any adjective + noun combination one casually scrolls by on music sites.
In tandem with the name change, O’s forthcoming self-titled EP turns heads with its lively collection of jams. O’s eclectic 22 minutes defy easy genre labeling by besieging rock n’ roll from many angles. It combines psychedelic, jazz, soul and pop ingredients into a joyous package of engaging and challenging tunes.
Opening track “I Reek” causes a double take at the get-go by faking out with a stagger of chords before breaking into a triumphant sprint. The track charges forward with uplifting chord progressions, heightened by chiming keys and vocal harmonies. “I guess my heart ain’t made of iron / I toss and turn in pure desire,” lead-singer Gregory DiMartino croons before the song erupts in chorus. It’s an ecstatic romp that soars in many directions, building and releasing in swells until its fist-pumping close.
Indeed, it is readily apparent that O is a solid step forward from the band's previous output as Black Cobra Vipers.
Black Cobra Vipers' EP showcased a young band with strong technical ability and a distinctive style. It jumps around with a similar vivacity to O, but with simpler song-structures and level-headed instrumentals. Many elements introduced in that release, such as vocal harmonies and soft-loud dynamics, are fleshed out to a greater degree in O. The newly amped-up version of “On The Road”, a previous highlight from EP, duly shows this improvement.
More instruments have also been added without too many arbitrary embellishments. Submerged keys and chimes decorate “Deepthroat Love.” A tender piano leads “Breach," the lush closing track. A buzzing synth lead comes straight out of left field in “Secret Lover,” like someone blowing hard on a kazoo, perhaps the only questionable addition that could startle casual listeners.
The band employs studio effects throughout the recordings without over-relying on them to fill in space. The focus, as it should be, is DiMartino’s vocals and the dynamic song structures. DiMartino stands out prominently as a talented vocalist in his new environment. His singing captures a wide range of emotions, from belting with passion in “I Reek” to restrained and lovesick in “Deepthroat Love.” His wailing resembles a less guttural Tom Waits.
As a whole, O is a solid collection of individual songs, but is somewhat all over the place as a unit. This is a common characteristic on EPs, so perhaps with an album release somewhere down the line, O will establish smoother continuity. But the strength of these fresh recordings, especially tracks “I Reek” and “Breach,” proves that the members of O are technically adept, brimming with ideas and willing to challenge themselves with interesting compositions.
O is still negotiating with potential record labels concerning the release of this EP. Hear some of it live at when the band plays Slim's in San Francisco this Thursday, October 16, 2014 before embarking on a cross-country tour. For tickets and information, visit slimspresents.com.