O. Children - ‘Apnea’ (Deadly People)

27 Jul 2012

" O.Children have not let misfortune get the better of them. On the contrary, they’ve harnessed it and actually used it to progress and steer themselves in a direction it sounds like they were always destined to go..."

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O. Children stormed onto the music scene back in 2009 with their self-titled debut album making broody post-punk waves up and down the country. Producing a record full of melodrama, theatrics and eerie guitars coupled with Tobi O’Kandi’s sensationally unique baritone, the band eased into a comfortable musical position securing hoards of fans and sold-out shows. And then they disappeared. Rumours were rife that new material was being worked on however it was only recently that any of these Chinese whispers were confirmed. Two years after their debut album was released, O.Children have finally returned with Apnea, but bloody hell has it been a journey.

I feel that before you can even begin to listen to Apnea it’s worth briefly touching on the struggle that was endured to make this album. O’Kandi was arrested and placed in a cell back in 2009 for, and this is where it gets really rock’n’roll – bunking a train. Unbeknown to the 6’8, Californian born, lead singer, his VISA had run out thus the threat of deportation was prominently on the cards. It was whilst he was being hauled in and out of court cases that O.Children worked on the new album. The title Apnea alludes to a dangerous sleep condition O’Kandi developed during the tumultuous two years due to stress, not least because of a break up in addition to his ongoing VISA issues.

Already, it should be clear that Apnea is a hugely personal record and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that the unfortunate circumstances behind its creation might lead to a second album laced with even more macabre melodrama and gloomy tendencies. Yet, you are wrong. Apnea marks a brilliant progression for O.Children as both writers and musicians. Most of the theatrics and dramatics from the first album are thrown out of the window and what we are left with is a genuinely honest and compelling record.

Having said that, if you are a fan looking for songs similar to those off the debut album you’ll find the strongest contender in first track ‘Holy Wood’. It’s introduced through a simple yet effective bass line, one of the tools utilised much throughout the record, which is soon accompanied by mystical melodies from keyboard and guitar. Then comes the sound of an unremitting drum beat and we’re being carried towards the highly anticipated return of O’Kandi’s voice. Honestly, it feels like a sermon as his baritone repeatedly commands ‘Let us’ and towards the end of the song the echoes of ‘Holy Wood’ coupled with the all-too familiar guitar reverb are almost ghoulish. Praise and rejoice, for they have returned.

It’s the second track ‘The Realest’ where a somewhat new O.Children appears; an O.Children who always existed but were perhaps previously hidden underneath a gritty, gothic exterior. It’s an instant hit; from the driving drums and memorable refrain to the anthemic chorus full of thrashing guitars. ‘This ain’t the gospel, this is the realest’ chants O’Kandi and it seems like this is the realest we’ve seen O.Children. The same could be said for ‘I know you Love me,’ - ultimately a lighter song and admittedly one I could imagine lovers of the first album being initially wary of. Some of the lyrics sound like they’re being sung by a gospel choir (when it actual fact it’s just guitarist Gauthier) but are also one of the first times O.Children have talked candidly and honestly about love. ‘What I’m doing I don’t know’ admits O’Kandi amidst a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cure song, yet it’s still a melody that only adds to claims that they’ve always had the potential to be hit-makers.

One of the biggest accomplishments of Apnea is the ubiquitous musical experimentation which will undoubtedly help to disband any gothic stereotypes previously attached to the band.  There’s so much versatility on this album that it would be difficult for someone to listen and not find something they can engage with. 80s pop is channelled through the gated synths in ‘Yours for You’ which also harbours a neat little Pixies-esque guitar riff half-way through. Similarly, nods to the 80s can be seen in ‘H8 City’, a busy track where elements of Metronomy flash through and probably the only song I didn’t initially warm to. The employment of keys on this album is further and most powerfully seen in ‘Chimera’, the closing track and also first single to be released. The simple, emotive piano melody combined with Andi Sleath’s kick drum results in what is arguably a great pop song and exemplifies O.Children’s flair for great song-writing.

Admittedly, it’s probably the songs one would have least expected to hear on ‘Apnea’ that shine the brightest.  For example, with ‘Oceanside’ my mind is immediately catapulted into a car inCaliforniawith my windows rolled down and my stereo on full blast.  It’s a Summer anthem; the simple slide guitar employed by guitarist Gauthier Ajarrista is reminiscent of the ‘Chilli Peppers and integrated with the seemingly effortless but soulful vocals results in one of the most stripped back songs they’ve ever created. O’Kandi’s cries of ‘Wait, by the Oceanside now, I’ll wait until your mine now, I’ll wait until your mine’ conjures some sense of endearing vulnerability and I feel myself wanting to flick my lighter on, hold it in the air and sing along; a notion I would have previously laughed at if you’d told me O.Children could evoke these sort of feelings.

‘PT Cruiser’ is another highlight of the album that comes out of left field. Bassist Harry James blasts out one of the most impressive basslines of 2012, yet the genius lies in its simplicity. It’s a rock song laced with an air of arrogance that’s completely irresistible. Any vulnerability seen in O’Kandi swiftly turns to superiority as he boasts ‘I am master of my lane’ following an epic guitar break that would undoubtedly make Josh Homme proud. Continuing in the ‘rock song’ type vein is ‘Swim’ where again there’s a definite Queens of the Stone Age tinge and even the possibility of a bit of head thrashing as guitars take centre stage and synths take a back seat.

As the final build up of ‘Chimera’ winds down and the album ends, what becomes apparent is that O.Children have not let misfortune get the better of them. On the contrary, they’ve harnessed it and actually used it to progress and steer themselves in a direction it sounds like they were always destined to go. They haven’t been afraid to strip back and have refused to pander to what people probably expected from this album; the surprise we get upon listening is what makes it so good. There’s less of the fantastical and more sincerity laced with juicy melodies, catchy bass lines and guitar hooks. It’s a massive accomplishment considering the tumultuous journey endured whilst making it and as O’Kandi simply puts it; “We did it and we did it well.” You can’t argue with that.

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