As 2008 winds down, many people are already compiling their "Best Of" lists. Many of the top spots are likely filled by the obvious candidates such as New Lexicon, East/West, The '59 Sound and a just-released C I V I L W A R. However, it may be wise to save some space on that list for the debut Olehole (pronounced Oh-lay-oh-lay) album, Holemole (pronounced Holy Moley).
For those unfamilar with the band, it features Brian Moss (ex-the Ghost / Hanalei / Wunder Years) on guitar and vocals and Dan Wedgwood (ex-Burial Year / Quest for Quintana Roo) on bass. I will be the first to admit that I'm not as well-versed in the members' former bands as some, so please excuse the fact that this review will be light on "Sounds like 'ex-band' mixed with early 'other ex-band' but isn't as good as 'another ex-band." My ignorance of their previous work aside, it is clear that Olehole know what they're doing and know how to do it well.
Holemole is, from start to finish, songs that beat, bludgeon and generally force you to sit up and listen. The lazy description is something between Fugazi and Hot Water Music. Right off the bat the album opens with "Gatekeeper," a greeting of dissonance, unusual melody and a stop and start pace that keeps you gripped throughout. Musically, the band takes every opportunity to showcase their skills but never at the expense of the music. They know when to toy with more unusual sounds and melody ("40 43 74 00") and when to reel it in for more traditional driving melody ("Monuments of Motion"). Throughout it is clear that every part of the music is meticulously balanced to make the most of every instrument but to keep any one part from over powering the rest of the band. The result is songs that have enough general appeal to keep the average listener from losing interest over five minutes but enough complexity to stand up to, and even improve with, repeat listening.
Lyrically and vocally, Brian Moss steers Holemole like an insane captain barking orders at the crew below. Moss is at his best when he inserts himself into the crazed lead in his lyrics, such as "Gatekeeper" where he proposes, "Let's build a wall / to keep the W.A.S.P. hive pristine / scrape the dirt from our shoes / to keep this white carpet clean." Like "Gatekeeper," many of the songs on Holemole take a skewed look at what many of us have come to accept as normal, from sexuality ("Chimps Night Out") to general faith in human leaders ("Talk the Walk"). Olehole manages metaphors and imagery efficiently enough to keep topics fresh, but not so contrived that you need to have an understanding of Greek mythology to interpret it.
If screaming is currently identified as kids in tight pants and swooped hair sounding like dinosaur roars and shouting is typical of gang vocals and "hey"s, then Moss' delivery can best be classified as yelling. When Moss yells, you can hear the veins in his neck bulge; you can see the the spit flying on the mic; you can feel the strain of vocal chords pulled to their limit. It amazes me that Moss is able to pull off such intense delivery over an entire album and not lose his voice. But, just as quick as he can demand attention with a bellowing yell, Moss can drop to a melodic singing voice that keeps the vocals from becoming stale or redundant.
If there is one major flaw of Holemole it's the timing. The album is set at around 36 minutes over 10 songs. However, the first five songs total just about 13:28 averaging around 2:41. The second batch of five songs total about 22:48, with an average of around 4:33 -- almost two whole minutes longer than the first half songs. This causes a very uneven feeling in the album. You tear through the first half in almost no time, but pulling through the second half seems much more labored than the first. That isn't to say the songs on the second half are bad (some are the best on the album) but the sheer length adds a great feeling of unevenness to an album that otherwise seems to musically and lyrically master a balance.
As a whole, Holemole is the kind of album most bands spend years trying to make. It's forceful without being overbearing; at times, melodic without being poppy; it's experimental while not being so far out it comes off as masturbatory. This is an album that manages to mix several elements and utilize the best of them while never overusing any single element. Its great riffs and melodies grab your attention on the first listen but the great song structure and diversity are what make it a great album to listen to over and over again. Holemole is one of those album where your favorite part of the last song ("Big Numbers") is when it ends, because you know you keep it on loop and the first song ("Gatekeeper") is just about to start.