The Suborbitals – Hey Oblivion!
The Suborbitals played their first gig in 2003 and, over fifteen years, established themselves as a popular staple in the Southern California music scene. They released their first album Blackout Rolling in 2006 and their latest, Hey Oblivion!, is only their second album, but the thirteen songs spanning the collection are rife with surprises and satisfying turns more than making up for any wait. Much of their distinctive musical personality comes through in their apparent willingness to try whatever a song needs and their chameleon like talent for different approaches is remarkable by any standard. The Suborbitals are comfortable playing in a variety of idioms and possess an unerring ear for marrying music and lyrics. They, likewise, benefit from lyrical invention obeying the same lean aesthetic shaping the album’s arrangements.
“Bone Tea” is The Suborbitals in an elegiac mood. Vocalist/guitarist Ryan Masters’ writing boasts a spot on balance between biting conversationally framed lyrics and recurring poetic flourishes. There’s definitely a low-key understated quality defining some of the album’s material and that’s evident during the opener, but it is nonetheless engaging. The album’s second song “Let’s Forget It for a While” is one of the album’s gems and illuminates the deceptive melodic charms of the band’s music. There’s certainly a frame of reference for listening to this music; The Suborbitals have an identifiable style despite their personal slant. They aren’t attempting to remake the musical wheel, but every aspect of their presentation has a fresh veneer coloring the familiar territory they explore. There’s a much fuller band presence exerting its presence here and the rhythm section of drummer Gordon Stokes and bassist Heath Proskin are key to the song’s success.
The vivacious energy powering “Devil’s Dance Card” draws out an equally urgent vocal from Masters; you can practically hear him attacking each new verse like it is the song’s first. Proskin unreels a sternum rattling bass line for the song “Wise Blood” and sax player Ben Herod throws in some brooding lines well tailored to the tune’s three a.m. bleary eyed reflections. The literary reference implied by the song’s title plays well thanks to another high quality Masters lyric instead of ringing hollow or landing in an unnecessarily pretentious way. The skewed amiability of the title song’s scat singing is a memorable introduction, but the track maintains the same level of creativity throughout and the chorus rates as among the band’s best on the album.
The dark heart of the album for many will arrive with the song “Finding Mnemosyne” and it has perfect musical accompaniment for a lyric delving deep within and not dredging up anything particularly cheerful. Dropping classical references into your songwriting like this, look it up if you don’t know, makes the song an even deeper, resonant experience for many listeners. “Only Half There” has a spirit reminiscent of the title song, a sort of cockeyed exuberance despite complications, and the musical arrangement deserves consideration as among the best offered here. The Suborbitals are back as a recording band with outstanding results and Hey Oblivion! is quite unlike anything else you’ll in modern popular music today.