After a fairly brief period of downtime between the release of their well-received (by yours truly) Takeover debut EP, Oh No Not Stereo is back with a full-length followup.
Having graduated from a two-piece trio to a two-piece quartet, the band is perhaps a little better suited for the ambitious sound they seem to desire, as well as the mainstream success they’ve been marching towards. Though their stay at Takeover was transitory (filing for breach of contract while Takeover worked on restructuring and the launch of Takeover Digital), the band was able to build enough buzz to self-release 003 while cleverly slipping into the segues of such substance-less TV slots as “Bam’s Unholy Union,” “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF” and “Meet the Barkers.”
Unlike the hopeless majority of bands striving for the sound that ONNS seems to have keyed in on (emoey pop-rock with just as many movements and chord patterns as hooks), Oh No Not Stereo is one of the few that actually has the chops to pull it off. Between the two core members Skyler Nielsen and Mykul Lee, the duo takes on responsibilities for vocals, guitar, b3, accordion, percussion, Fender Rhodes, piano, bass and organ. However, this has also led to the amount of woe-begotten filler like the emo piano-ballad “12 Years Later” that is so rife with hackneyed panache it’s painful to even write: “I will wait / I will bleed / I’m not ready to leave / With my soul in my hand and my heart on my sleeve.” The same is true of the string-laden “A World of Our Own,” which boasts a better lyrical dispatch but still bores beyond description. Existing to prove ONNS can pull off some slower numbers, “I Can’t Say” leads with an irresistibly catchy gang-whistle melody and bubbly Rhodes underbelly that eventually evolves into a driving fist-pumper.
Still, it’s fortunate the band didn’t spend too much time on ballads, because their strength is easily in the punky pop-rock they virtually perfected on their 002 EP. “Let’s Get It Started” is thankfully of no relation to the Black Eyed Peas hit of the same name, and is one of the album’s strongest tracks with a simple yet catchy hook and a dicing guitar bridge. “All You” starts promisingly with a punchy verse before devolving into a chorus that’s both too dramatic and too similar to Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” to be enjoyable. The snappy “Shot Down by the Man” showcases the band at their most aggressive and spirited: “Our generation will overturn all the authority / … / Middle finger in the air / Scream it loud and clear.” ONNS follows the tradition paved by Bouncing Souls and Cartel in naming their album’s best song “Say Anything,” though the shifty sing-along “The Eyes on the Kids” is certainly a close contender.
Oh No Not Stereo’s third release is chock full of energetic, catchy tunes that the kids are sure to love. Sadly, there are also three times as many duds as their 002 EP, with a fraction of its anthemic sing-alongs. Still, the band isn’t settling on rehashing an already fresh sound, and the ambition shown here will hopefully be enough to get them over the hump next time around.