Their name might imply something strange and exotic, but really this album is quite engaging and accessible. This is mostly due to it loosely sounding like pop music, even though if you were to listen closely you’d fall into a chasm of different sounds. I might even call Whichever Chapter Covers Now genre-hopping, but the transitions are so smooth I think genre-sliding is a more appropriate term.
The Milwaukee-based 5-piece, especially the lead singer (not accurately named on the disc), reminds me of Buffalo Tom. But whereas Buffalo Tom broke out of their ‘Dinosaur Jr. Jr.’ tag, becoming an acoustic-driven, coffee-house outfit, El Oso simply lightened the load of sonic-guitar noise to make room for piano, organ, and electronic tinkering. The wide instrumental scope and carefully crafted arrangements envelop the listener, fully present at all times but never overbearing. Lyrics are belted out like a confident Bill Janovitz, while fluid guitars strum from wall to wall and thin layers of electronica resonate along the floor.
Each piece has its charm, sweeping in between shadowy urban-Americana and bright, mid-tempo paced indie rock. Most tracks can be described as lush, but ‘Natural Life’ (and others) add mini-explosions of voice and piano, picking up the ear before it becomes too cushioned. ‘The Great American Novel’ plays the quiet/loud dynamic card but does so with hooks, so I can’t complain. The programmed beats and micro-synth loops mixed with organic instruments of ‘Tonight’s Now Tomorrow’ is the kind of song Postal Service apers have been looking for since 2003. The vocals are a strong ingredient in this band’s formula, so the venture into vocal effects, ‘Lions’ doesn’t suit well, but overall the creative stabs hit the mark rather than miss widely as most music tagged as ‘experimental’ does.
El Oso have worked hard to make their music distinct, but by no means have they declared the boundaries of their sound. That indeed, is the sign of a band with good things ahead of them.
-Mark Hughson 6/20/05