From the very first chorus of the first track on this album, I fell in love. I don’t say that about many albums, but this is a truly remarkable piece of artistry. Siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath form the group The Oh Hellos, a dramatic partnership that put forth a piece of production excellence in their latest album Through the Deep Dark Valley.
It’s rare for me to be equally stunned by the lyrics and the musicianship on an album. At times reflecting noted groups such as The Civil Wars or even Mumford and Sons, the music is top quality. But then the lyrics are rooted in a hauntingly important Christian iconography. Wrestling with theological complexities such as original sin and substitutional atonement, this duo has found a way to make good folk music that has a meaningful message beyond the usual.
One of the treats of this album is that it doesn’t have a monolithic sound. The artists channel a number of my favorite artists, including Wayfarer and St. Paul de Vence in the structure of the tracks. Some of the harmonies are timeless, especially the chorus harmonies. That’s not an easy accomplishment. A good chorus can sound cheesy, or it can pull in the listener to feel a part of the work. The Oh Hellos pull it off expertly.
The first lyric on the album is “We were born in the valley of the dead and the wicked…” The song goes on to explain the significance of that rootedness for mankind, asking, “Will you lead me?” The collective vocals on the chorus really make the song seem like a lament to God from the people of Earth. It’s an exceptionally well constructed song. It’s also just really fun to listen to and sing along with, as is much of the album.
The second track, “Like the Dawn” slows down to a finger picking folk style and soft vocals by Maggie. It is introspective and strikes an urgency in the listener. It commands attention. It’s a song written from the perspective of one of Adam in the garden of Eden in reference to Eve and the Fall. It’s spiritual. It’s deep. It’s great. “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, at last.”
“Eat me alive” has a Mumford and Sons style, including the group vocals that make you want to sing along. The chord progression and strum patterns all contribute to that celebratory folk sound. You feel like you should have a pint in your hand, while singing some of the best lyrics on the album, “I’ve seen the true face of the things you call Life, the voice of the siren that holds your desires, but Death, she is cunning, and clever as hell, and she’ll eat you alive.”
The song “The Lament of Eustice Scrubb” is probably the best song on the album for me. It sounds like it could have come off of St. Paul de Vence’s awesome album from earlier this year. It has a minimal folk beginning with very heartfelt vocals. Then, as the full band comes in around the accordion’s sounds, there’s a fullness that fills in for the lamenting prayer. “Father have mercy, I know that I have gone astray. When I saw my reflection, it was a stranger beneath my face.” The hopeful chorus echoes, “but I’ll come around some day.” It’s such an honest track that wrestles with the daily lived life of someone failing, sinning even, and still seeking. The vocal construct, complete with choral clapping, again creates a sense of cohesion. We’re in this together.
The lyrics to “I was wrong” are the most “Christian” in their content. In fact, the song is a miniature version of the inherent message of Christianity. “I knew you’d never forgive me, but I was wrong, and I’m so so sorry.” It’s a song about understanding our relationship as humans to God, in full dependence. The song is built with layers of amazing vocal harmonies. It’s almost, some might say, a worship song, but not in the overly simple version of a lot of the Contemporary Christian Music mold. It is deep and complex and frustratingly beautiful.
The tenth track on the album “The Truth is a Cave,” has a full sound like a few of the others mentioned here. It also has some pretty exceptional lyrics that encourage truth seeking in our world. “But in the silence I heard you calling out to me.” It’s a song about the difficulties of serving God in a broken world, but doing it nevertheless. It’s a phenomenal song, as many of the others.
There are so many excellent songs on this album. It’s easily a candidate for album of the year for me. I found it on Bandcamp with one of those “I think I’ve heard of them” moments. From first listen this is a fantastic no-skips album. It’s made for good headphones and high volume. Some listeners will find its fruit particularly sweet and helpful for living life to its fullest. Thank you, The Oh Hellos, from the bottom of my heart for making an album that is so reflective yet still an incredibly fun listen.