I was instantly smitten with Lionel O’s music when I saw them play at Subterranean a couple years ago. I had no idea who they were or where they were from, but something in the songs spoke to me. I later found that the band is a project from Matt Orenstein, a Chicago citizen who came from Minnesota via Oberlin College. Ever since I’ve been paying close attention to what he’s got going on. We’re coming up on the official release of -MLO, and I was lucky enough to get an early copy of the album.
It’s a bit all over the place, but in no way does that impede the listener’s ability to enjoy the music. In fact, the constantly changing soundscape might be a good thing. If every song were similar, it could be a bit boring over 11 tracks. -MLO starts off with the ambient “G Thing,” and moves on to cover a lot of musical ground-folk, punk, acid rock. There isn’t much Matt isn’t willing to try, and most of the time the results are fantastic.
There are songs I like better than others, of course. And because my personal tastes run more toward folk/guitar stuff so I really like “The Carolinas” and “From a Bathroom.” The latter of those is actually one of the songs played at the show that I saw. This is a different version, of course, but not too much is changed. It’s still very short-almost like he took a verse from another song and just made it something else. It works though. In 90 seconds he delivers a full story better than a lot of writers could in 90 minutes.
“Pinkman” is the single, if you will. It was released on soundcloud last month, and somehow does manage to act as a kind of summary of the album. The vocals are a little more clear here, and the background music seems at a constant precipice about to spill over into chaos. It’s never what you expect. The drums or guitar will build and then back off just before you think a big crescendo should hit.
I really enjoy listening to Lionel O, regardless of what genre is being played at any given time. Matt’s voice reminds me a little bit of a mix between Elliott Smith and fellow Oberlin alum Josh Ritter on some songs. The lyrics are always well-written: very concise, intelligent, and honest. -MLO is coming out on cassette tape and digital February 17th, so hit up the Bandcamp page where you can also find a bunch of other great Lionel O material.