When the man of many pseudonyms, Heinz Junkins pressed a hand-decorated copy of this album into my hand in a dark corner of The Fleece, he was perhaps a little reluctant to let go of this precious cargo. “I think it’s finished…” he trailed off, before disappearing once again into the crowd on a mission to distribute more copies of the disc. It was unclear at this point how, when or in what strange form the album – which delights in the enigmatic title “Yard Is Open” – would surface, so I decided on the idea of a preview so that the few readers who endure my ramblings could get some sense of what was to come. However, after living with the OLO Worms debut album for a good few months now, I’m not sure I’m any the wiser. But the good news is that very soon indeed, you will be able to hear this curious, shifting beast of a record for yourselves, in it’s near almost impossible to pin down glory. So I’m certainly not nearly ready to produce my usual screed of glib pronouncements and platitudes about it. Instead I thought I’d present the notes I made on the very first listen to the record. That way, you can perhaps experience with me the sounds, the sights and perhaps even the strange barnyard smells which herald this important milestone in the OLO Worms career… But firstly, the challenge is to figure out what’s real and what’s a product of your overworked and fanciful imagination. From the very opening seconds, this is a multi-layered, dense recording. Samples of conversation, strange sound effects and unexpected instrumental blarts appear then are gone as swiftly as they arrive. Did you really just hear that – or is it your excited synapses independently filling in the gaps? The OLO Worms inhabit a sort of post-media world, where all of the streams – television, music, and the endless babble of social networks – have melded into a single torrent of semi-consciousness. From this dreamlike tumble of images, snippets and soundbites they manage to extract the most absurd, and sometimes the least consequential – but then they reassemble them into something improbable, often hilarious, and almost always rather beautiful. I’ve long held that laughter is as relevant a means of appreciating music as any chin-stroking, aridly academic approach – and there are many laughs to be had as this surprising record spins out – from huge belly-laughs to more nervous, uncomfortable tittering at things which are only just in the realms of sanity, there is a sense of humour and genuine delight at the core of this album which shines strongly through. Some may find this difficult – because music has to be serious right? Well, no – you’re wrong.
On the opening track “Barnyard”, the narrator from Jeff Wayne‘s “War of the Worlds” seems to have fallen on hard times, and finds himself describing strange post-apocalyptic scenes in a world closely approximating our own. However, he is quick to point out that these were “old times/a wooden time“. The shocking dystopian vision of post-modern society inhabiting a farmyard spins out over a swooningly lovely backdrop. Blasts of brass and an angelic chorus of voices fill out the spaces created by a shuffling, baggy beat. It’s like Primal Scream meeting J.G Ballard in a shopping centre – probably during 1991-2 when both were enjoying something of a renaissance. Something more familiar but no less remarkable arrives next, in the form of “Back From England” release on a Fence 7″ single from 2010. This, I can state almost certainly, remains the only record ever to claim “Dino Freak” as it’s primary genre. Whilst no agreed definition for this is recorded, in practice this seems to mean insistently throbbing bass, shuffling woodblock-heavy percussion and sinister, haunted vocals which descend into a distinctly home-counties accented rap at the end. Seemingly random crys of “Mexico 1986!” carbon date these boys and give a hint to some of the formative experiences which underpin the OLO aesthetic. I’m sensing almost-complete Panini sticker albums somewhere in the OLO Worms collective past? I bet they always swapped to get the metallic silver team badges though. Onwards into the unknown once again, and I’ve found myself scouring social media for the evidence to support the next track – as I distinctly recalled seeing a picture of a sheet of paper with the lyrics of this odd little song scrawled on them – some business about actors who steal tractors? And sure enough, buried deep on Facebook is a lyric sheet for “Ol’ Boozy’s Chug Thump”. The name of this short, demented hoedown has survived the long gestation period of this record, along with the curious lyrical preoccupations. Taking almost as long to complete its fade out to silence as the entirety of the frantic rant lasts, this is a torrent of sometimes painful but wonderfully silly rhymes which dance around the country-lite rhythm playfully. Meanwhile odd sounds rebound around the mix, creating a cartoon-like strangeness. With “Ol’ Boozy” safely back in the barn, a tinkling cascade of metallic noise, like the heartsinking moment that house keys fall down a concrete staircase begins the next track entitled “Strays”, before a slightly off-kilter falsetto vocal kicks in with a refrain of “if you cut it right off/it starts the slippery slope“. Benefiting from the attentions of fellow Fence artist Rozi Plain, this is again rather beautiful. A mildly warped guitar joins along with a shudder of electronic undertow while things develop into something of an OLO anthem. Don’t be fooled though, this isn’t Coldplay or anything – not unless you played them at the wrong speed and in a different room at least. Then again, it’s pleasing to imagine this soundtracking “goal of the month” at some future point perhaps?
Following swiftly, “Barbershop” visits further uncharted – and perhaps advisedly so – waters. It begins with a interview which rivals in significance the Frost/Nixon encounter as Junkins stages a Skype summit with Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club fame. Their meandering chatter spans topics serious and bizarre, Taylor‘s honest and open northern vowels lulling us into a sense of false security as the music slowly winds into life. Then, with little warning of what is about to occur, a change of pace is signalled by a strange mockenspiel sound and suddenly a slinky, Barry White style groove sets up. This is accompanied by frankly some of the sleaziest vocals I’ve ever heard. The voice starts shrill then dips furtively and rather lewdly low, before resurfacing as an unhinged bark later in the track. It’s mostly all about sexy hairdressing it seems – which is certainly largely untouched territory for pop music. The last words are left for Rebecca, with an animalistic groan of “Hubba Hubba!“. I feel a bit grimy after this, to be honest. Cleansing is supplied by the sixth track, “Whacked By Pillow” which is a comparatively downbeat and pensive affair. It skitters in with the sound of a plague of insects, and centres on a delicate acoustic guitar melody which, along with the tinkling of wooden percussion and some tribal beats, provides a backdrop to sinister half-whispered vocals. There is a certain cinematic quality to this, but it would be one of those foreign films – probably impenetrably complex, likely black and white, and certainly with subtitles. Though in what strange language I’d not presume to guess. Stabs of metallic noise and gnarled twists of crunchy guitar add to the atmosphere as the moody bassline climbs towards the song’s climax and the OLO‘s provide a weird collective choral accompaniment. This all coalesces into something pretty spectacular – a slow-burning, dark knot of loveliness in the eye of a sometimes unsettling storm of an album.
Familiar from the recent “Image EP” and previously one of the groundbreaking “Polaroid” projects, the always welcome “Snake” explodes into life via a 16-bit computer sound – probably swiped from the part of the game when you defeat the level boss. Then a waspish, dub bassline stutters and shudders into life with what I can only describe as queer electronic biting and rending sounds punctuating the mix. Meanwhile a choir of voices coincidentally intones the melody from “Stepping Stone” by the Monkees, giving the whole thing a triumphant and anthemic air. Nagging electric guitar shards add to the complicated and heady brew, before the retro computer sounds drift back in while a distant voice states that “There’s a circle forming inside of my head…” before asking that age old, but ever important question “Are you a girl?“. I can see this one provoking lots of interesting remixes and potentially getting lots of dance-savvy people excited – and if it can get an old duffer like me shuffling around the living room its powers may know no limits. A marine influence permeates the next, very strange song entitled “Flipper”. A bleepy, electronic affair which sets its stall out early with “dolphins with laser guns” and the most remarkable chain of rhymes I’ve heard in some years involving alsatians, crustaceans, mutations, lubrication, fumigation and a host of other concerns too unsettling to mention. Beneath this is another of the absurdly addictive dub grooves which pop up throughout this record, shot through with melodic tumbles of guitar and earwax-loosening buzzing sounds. While thus far it’s clear we can attribute many unique attributes to the OLO Worms, I’m moved to wonder if they in fact possess the power to reanimate the dearly departed, because for their next trick on “Curves” they appear to have raised the shade of George Harrison and introduced him to in passing to Galaxie 500 for a shimmery, acoustic drift with military drums and gently melodic vocals provided by Gareth Jones. This is, by OLO standards, a ballad – focused on rockets and relationships. It’s a strangely formal musical interlude in a record which is generally unpredictable, but it ably demonstrates that this band is capable of expressing many moods and making really conventionally beautiful things alongside their more avant garde artistic endeavours.
As the album approaches its conclusion there are a couple of very odd, short, discordant interludes – the first of which extols the virtues of a varied diet as it suggests “Eating Every Living Thing” while clanging Beefheart-like guitars echo around the voices and pizza is consumed loudly and gluttonously. The second very short piece delights in the incongruously grand title of “Sometimes I Like To Take The Long Route Home” and introduces a muted trumpet – the sort of thing which signals a pratfall in an Ealing Comedy. It parps oddly for just around a minute or so – its hard to say exactly why of course, but it introduces a sort of nostalgic note to proceedings by evoking black and white films on wet Sunday afternoons. The end of the album proper comes with the pulsing, epic and complex beast which is “Sphinx”. The jungle sound effects, twittering electronic noises and almost sub-sonic bassline are merely an introduction to a truly unhinged rap. This song mutates several times during it’s course, and is often many things at the same time. I’d urge listening on headphones, perhaps with an another adult in the house – just in case, you understand – you can never be too careful with these things. The next twist brings in echoing, hollow stadium-rock guitars and a police siren which build to sonically uncomfortable levels. When it has reached its almost unbearable zenith it rather unexpectedly becomes a slice of tinny 1980s hair-metal, complete with screamy rock vocals, before ending it’s tortured existance with a single stroke on a triangle. In common with much of this record, there is so much going on here, layered in such challenging and unusual ways that it’s near impossible to describe in any coherent sense.
It’s taken a long time for this collection of songs to come together in the form of an album – and it’s fairly certain that before it finally reaches you, the listener, there will be all kinds of strange happenings to ensure it becomes a multimedia event in it’s own right. It’s important to remember here that the last OLO Worms EP was realised in the form of both a tiny vinyl USB-equipped coffin and a large, cumbersome vinyl cube. And that perhaps is part of the sense of balance the OLO Worms set up – tapping into the torrent of signals which showers all of us, every second of the day, they make damn sure they give something back which is greater than the sum of what they’ve misappropriated. They are always listening to the weird background chittering which most of us manage to tune out, and whether it takes the form of innovative music or just a picture of lots of cats considering some fishermen, they’re tapping into its latent artistic possibilities. In some ways, “Yard Is Open” has benefited from this long, slow public birth via social media – a concept which suits the OLO Worms perfectly with its endless stream of ideas, incongruities and absurdities. And quite apart from the initial oddness of this music and the deliberate attempts to abstract things away from the idea of a traditional ‘band’, this is a damn good record. There are moments of buttock-clenchingly tight art-pop, absurd rock-outs, perverse raps and lots of curious insights into the strange world of the OLO Worms.
The OLO Worms will release “Yard Is Open” on 13th August, and will launch this via live appearance at the Louisiana in Bristol on 10th August and The Old Police Station, Deptford on 11th August. The unsettling but hugely entertaining video for “Strays” can be seen here to give you just a hint of what to expect. In the meantime you can still obtain the digital release of the “Image EP” from Bandcamp, which provides an introductory glimpse into the world of the OLO Worms. The 7″ single release of “Back From England” is also still available via Fence Records.