Bottom of the Hudson – The Omaha Record

Bottom of the Hudson
The Omaha Record

At the center of what Bottom of the Hudson does is pop, with bright hooks and breezy melodies poking out through the top layer of guitar distortion and an unofortunately muddy production. This album, The Omaha Record, rolls on for 13 songs, which feels like one or two too many, but the album is easygoing and often surprising in its quirks. The best song is the first one, “Motorcade,” which lurches through its off-kilter verses to a clean, bright refrain. The harmonies on this song, as on the whole album, are a little out of whack, and this quality can become a little distracting. “Eagle Eye” sounds sort of like Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips singing a Beach Boys song over a cheap Casio. Things get sharper on “The Chilling Sorcerer,” whichs opens with a pretty acoustic guitar figure and Nick Drake-like singing, before breaking mid-song into a fuzzy electric bridge.
The songs on this album offer so much in their potential for hitting the mark in terms of what pop should do best — that is, remain surprising and intelligent while at the same time reassuring with hooky chord changes — that it’s a shame that the production values are so poor. It often sounds like you’re listening to the songs through ear muffs, and on most tracks the vocals are buried back in the mix and can’t be understood.
The results are a little better on the quiter couple of songs in the middle of the album, like “Into the Sun” and “Pockets.” “Into the Sun” in particular sounds almost folky, though no one would accuse this band of folk-dom.
What you’re left with is a potentially very good record that needed to be left in the oven another couple of hours. Most of the songs can’t decide whether they’re fun or moody in tone, and end up treading a hazy line between the two and, after a while, repeating themselves. Things get more interesting toward the end of the album on tracks like “Shoop,” which throws together spoken, conversational lines about a breakup (“You’re right: I’m a horrible person,” “It’s yet another in a long series of diversions in an attempt to avoid responsibility”) over a backdrop of cheesy drum machines and backup-singer “shoop”-ing. It’s a silly and fun diversion of a song, taking a cue perhaps from Ben Folds’s Fear of Pop project (with William Shatner). I still kept wanting the band to cut loose a little more, as they do finally on the Modest Mouse-style, redneck metal jam “Tokyo.”
So I’m left with mixed feelings about The Omaha Record. There’s a lot on here that’s very good, but something was missing, too. Overall, it’s an enjoyable collection of power pop that’s raw, muddy, and never pretentious.