The increasing complexity of popular music has evolved right along with the advances in recording studio and electronic musical equipment over the past three or four decades, allowing the steady manipulation(i.e. control) of literally every note in a musical composition to come with relative ease in post-production. That’s not to say the technological advances in recording and performing music has made it possible for anyone in the world to become Phil Spector, Rick Rubin, or J. Dilla , it simply means that many more things go into a catchy harmony than most people want to believe.
These same people take the intricacies of popular music for granted, especially when listening to Top 40 recording artists. The compositional velocity of most contemporary pop songs is astounding, but, the whole point of making affecting “pop” music in both the mainstream and independent music communities is to make these complex song structures and multi-layered harmonies seem effortless.
Obi Best, however, cannot brag about having three or four singles in the Billboard Hot 100, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rhianna, T.I. or Lady Gaga, or enjoying the insight of a superstar producer along the lines of a Timbaland or Swizz Beats. But in listening to Obi Best’s beautiful, intricate, and delicately constructed debut album, Capades, I was slowly reeled in by the nimble melodies and spacey synth lines that could make a run for the MTV Hits crowd any day of the week. What made me stick around for repeated listens was the realization that each and every song was fastidiously manicured. No sprinkle of ringing percussion seemed out of place, no chorus seemed to linger for a moment too long, and, most importantly, every harmony that appears simple, proved to be deceptively complicated.
Alex Lilly, the group’s main songwriter, has a quirky penchant for tweaking with musical theory and making it look absurdly easy. She casually exhibits her ability to shift chords and keys from verse to verse, changing a second bridge to be played in a parallel minor, and sometimes, okay most of the time, doing all of this within the confines of one song. The opening track “Nothing Can Come Between Us” shows off Obi Best’s simple deception with a meandering piano line and Lilly singing playfully, sliding along her own range, in and out between the keys, all the while dragging some lyrics along with her. “I think we make a pretty good team” she laxly asserts to open the record. “Origami” is placed mid-album, using a multi-tracked, baritone vocal melody as the backbone that competes against shimmering variations of percussion, recalling Hot Chip’s more accessible IDM, with Lilly quietly crooning, “You say your mistakes are beautiful.”
The effortless nature of every musical component is the most endearing attribute of this upstart four-piece, seducing each listener with a secret code of harmony that is only subtly apparent. Capades compares to the dizzying compositions of Andrew Bird’s most recent records, but where classical training fueled Bird’s complex sense of harmonies and rhythms, Alex Lilly and friends seem to have found their niche manipulating and rearranging the usual components of mainstream radio. To say this album is a “grower” is inaccurate, the music grabs you immediately with its smartly concise assembly of pop, then forces you to stay and sit quietly, admiring it from every angle possible.
Capades is released right now for download on iTunes, but will be in record stores on February 24th.
Obi Best joins Shapiro at the Brillobox on February 20 at 10 pm.