The Oh Hellos – ‘Dear Wormwood’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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The newest and second studio release, Dear Wormwood, may be the boldest endeavor yet from The Oh Hellos, a Texas progressive folk group led by brother and sister duo, Maggie and Tyler Heath. The album’s title comes from the play titled Dear Wormwood from C.S. Lewis’s Christian apologetic novel The Screwtape Letters. The novel is written in a satirical, epistolary form where the character Wormwood is being tempted by Screwtape into leading his patients to commit sins.

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The intro “Prelude” builds a crescendo that crashes down into soft vocalizing, setting the tone for the rest of the album with an easy transition into bluegrass heavy “Bitter Water.” That track leads with banjo picking and other signature bluegrass sounds but with a pop influence and playful vocalization. “In The Blue Hours of Morning” is a transition track that uses some psychedelic banjo and mandolin playing to create a space that is beautiful and vivid. “Exeunt” starts slow but builds heavy rhythms and blends them with the pretty vocalizing that is quickly becoming a signature of this group. Think of the harmonies that The Lumineers employ but not as produced and with more edge. “Caesar” slows down with some gorgeous finger-picking, especially the kind of circular playing on the banjo. “This Will End” shows up halfway into the album as an upbeat, jaunty track. The siblings harmonize here and the playing changes towards the end, becoming slow and meaningful. When we arrive at the next track, “Pale White Horse,” we are primed for the slow build and strong female vocals. The track begins with a softly plucked guitar followed by Maggie Heath’s sweet voice. Her vocals and the guitar build on each other, adding more of the band along the way and eventually crashing into a heavy psychedelic space that is both beautiful and unexpected. The most unique track is “Danse Macabre”, which has a very gypsy, almost Eastern European rhythm and is entirely instrumental. The album ends with “Thus Always to the Tyrants”, a track that shows how much influence earlier indie folk bands like the Fleet Foxes have had on The Oh Hellos.

Dear Wormwood is a solid showing and creates more expectation for The Oh Hellos as they continue on their musical journey. All in all, it’s a fantastic recording that is easy to share, one where you will likely be asked many times, “who are we listening to?”

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