Steve Hartlett isn’t known for getting ahead of himself. Since 2009, Ovlov’s lead man has crafted stunning indie rock with the moment in mind, as the band oscillated between cult reverence, multiple breakups, and the promise of wider success. On the eve of the Connecticut group’s third album, Buds, the singer-guitarist (who also directs the garage quartet Stove) has indicated that he could finally reckon with the future. “I’m trying to figure out what I really want to do with the music,” he said recently. Buds tells her own story, one who looks close to home to find a way forward.
Hartlett’s concern for the present probably stems from how quickly things can fall apart. While Ovlov’s debut in 2013 a m struck like a smashed hymn to the past and changed places, 2018 Tru bore the brunt of addiction and the death of Hartlett’s best friend two years earlier. Within 25 minutes, Buds continues to go through the loss while looking largely at peace with the world. With brothers Jon and Theo Hartlett on bass and drums and his childhood friend Morgan Luzzi on guitar, Hartlett creates Ovlov’s most playful record to date. It’s still woolly and drowned in fuzz, but the band looks more lucid than ever.
Ovlov’s talent for donning even the most amplified passage with an earworm sets them apart. “Courage, Chihiro! »A fictitious letter to Abducted as if by magic protagonist, began his life as a demo for the debut of the group. It was judged “too pop” for the previous albums, but it finds its place here between spider arpeggios, punitive bass and the vocal counterpoint of Alex Gehring of Ringo Deathstarr. Reminiscent of the early Crumbs, it’s a masterclass on how to balance weight, thanks in part to a heart-wrenching saxophone solo from the Hartlett brothers’ father, Ted.
Gratitude – for life, for familiar faces, for its history – defines Buds. In the album’s dazzling opening, “Baby Shea,” Hartlett recalls the band’s early years at Shea Stadium in Brooklyn, now closed. There, we are told, he “felt more through” his friends. “Land of Steve-O” extends sentiment even further: written and demo before Tru, it’s an instant Ovlov classic about an “extremely important” sixth-grade friend with whom he shared a mutual love for Papa Roach. “We’ll talk about how we try to spend our days,” Hartlett sings, her chorus shrouded in a plume of scuzz. Here, and on the likes of “Moron Pt. 2”, he finds solace in good company. It’s hard to resist the eye-catching franchise.
Despite all their slacker rock credentials, Ovlov could rarely be described as cowardly. At Buds, the dynamics are more tense than ever. Muscular but never overwhelming, Jon and Theo Hartlett’s interaction on “Eat More” sets the stage for their brother’s wizarding solo. Conjuring My Bloody Valentine fed by Dinosaur Jr.’s wah-soaked “Little Fury Things” feels like a tear in the fabric of the universe. “Feel the Pain,” meanwhile, isn’t just a joke about a band Ovlov is often compared to: the first line is Hartlett’s direct rebuke of J Mascis. “You couldn’t feel the pain,” Hartlett intones softly, defending a friend, Dino Jr. Murph’s drummer, against Mascis’ mistreatment. For Hartlett, conscience and personal relationships trump enduring hero worship.
As “Feel the Pain” rises in a wave of tremolo and double bass chords, there is a feeling that Ovlov knows they haven’t got it all. But accepting the unknown can bring its own comfort. Buds feels like a cause for gratitude in itself: After a “final” show in July 2019, Ovlov had planned to take an extended hiatus, only so Hartlett could glean new information on his priorities amid the pandemic. When you are truly grateful for life, even 25 minutes seems like a gift.
Buy: Crude Trade
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