The sibling due of Maggie and Tyler Heath (and a bunch of their friends), known as The Oh Hellos, are back with another album of gang vocals and hand clapping. The other day they announced a robust North America tour in support of the album. It is worth noting, though, that this album is even more ambitious than their previous folk salvos; it shows off a band who has seen success and can bring more “tricks” to the dynamic folk-pop sound that has made their name. Notos feels like a natural evolution of a sound that can be at times “down home” and other times feel quite modern and progressive.
“On the Mountain Tall” feels like an old time gospel set of lyrics put to a modern mix of music. Some of the electronic and rock elements are considerable divergence from the sound original Oh Hellos fans have come to expect. But as this is normal for a sound to change over time, this does feel like a logical next step. The vocal on the following tracks “Torches” really takes off for the chorus. The lyrics are so complicated, you almost have to stop and read them to understand them. In a world of simplified worship music lyrics, the Oh Hellos show that thoughtful Christian artists can develop complex ideas through music.
The third track has an opening that sounds like the concert is still warming up. It leads to a fourth track with a nice stripped down acoustic part, but as the plugged in bass enters the track it’s obvious that the sound will keep with the overall modern vibe of the album. This fourth track “Constellations” is the most like the Oh Hellos sound that we’ve come to expect. The sense of mystery conveys the awe and wonder people have often expressed toward the stars. It’s easily the best track on the album.
“Notos,” the title track, opens with a persistent drum beat and a rising feeling of tension. It features Maggie Heath’s vocals prominently. Her light touch on the vocal dances over top of an electronic-style beat. The following “Mandatory Evac/Counting Cars” feels more like a jazz track than anything we’ve heard from the Oh Hellos in the past. It’s a divergence from the folk base of the band, going in more of a New Age or contemplative direction. Fans of that style of music will enjoy the meditative structure of the song.
The final track “New River” has some intriguing string work and a rhythm that feels old school and traditional. Perhaps it harkens to an even earlier era of the Old World, probably a rich Scots-Irish heritage that finds itself sprinkled throughout the American Southeast. It’s my second favorite track on the album, allowing for the strings and gang vocals to take over yet again.
This album crosses genres and can be difficult to categorize. It’s obvious that the songwriters have chosen to take some risks on this one. The characteristic string work and gang vocals are still present. The complex, thoughtful lyrics are present throughout the album as well. That said, if you’re looking for the mountain-inspired folk music of Through the Deep, Dark Valley or the evocative and emotional theology of Dear Wormwood, this album may not do exactly that. The album shows a new direction for the band.