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Monday, September 19, 2016

Over the Rhine -- Ohio


At some point, most critics have a moment of self-discovery, where they realize that their point-of-view is different from everyone else's. Without a unique voice or perspective, criticism is useless. My moment of, let's call it self-differentiation, came in my early twenties, and it centered around a simple fact: I hate Over the Rhine.
It all started after I stumbled upon a certain critic who seemed to have tastes similar to mine. This critic recommended the movie Stevie, and I then watched that film and thought it was great. Then this critic recommended the then new album by Over the Rhine, Ohio. I had heard of Over the Rhine, but never actually heard them before. I knew that a well-regarded magazine, Paste, had given Ohio a perfect score. I immediately went to Best Buy (what different times!) and picked up Ohio. I rushed to my car, excitedly pulled off Ohio's shrinkwrap, and placed it into my Alpine car stereo. I miss my Alpine car stereo.
That's when it happened.
They came from out of my speakers.
Sounds I did not like.
Indeed, on the first listen of this double-album, I didn't like Ohio at all. I couldn't even find one song to come back to, to center myself upon. I didn't like any of it.
This experience was extremely confusing. I thought that the above anonymous critic was like me and liked what I like. I thought Paste was a magazine I should respect. Why could I not get into their darling band?
I tried again, intent on finding something in my $15 purchase to enjoy. This had the unintended consequence of taking me from "I don't like this" to "I really hate this." I still have the same opinion of Ohio today.
It starts with the music.
Ohio is minimalist folk-pop and soft rock. Those are not my favorite styles of music. The only way I can stand either genre is if the folk-pop is a bit psychedelic or spacey, or if the soft rock is thick with atmosphere-I need some kind of production touch to engage the dopamine centers of my brain. This music does not do that. It is competently boring (the competence is why I am giving it a 4 and not a 0). However, moving past that, I find that beyond the music, there is something I like even less: Karin Bergquist's vocal performance.
To my knowledge, Over the Rhine are from the state after which this album is titled. For some reason, though, Bergquist frequently sings in an exaggerated Southern accent. This means, for instance, that a line like "He could make a girl grin," from Ohio's second disc, becomes, "Hai cowld mayke a gurl graihn." As if this wasn't maddening enough, when Bergquist gets a phrase like that stuck in her mouth, she likes to repeat it over and over again. So many lyrics from this album, lyrics that I don't even like because they don't feel authentic to me (they are essentially alt-country Paste-bait), are burned into my skull from Bergquist's repetition. Also, at one point, she raps. She should not rap. Paste gave a five-star review to an album where Karin Bergquist raps. Paste, I am not a fan of you.
So anyway, I hate this album. Even on the rare occasion that a song connects with me musically, like disc one's "Suitcase," Bergquist sings a line like "What you doing with a suitcase," as "Whatchu doin wit a sutecayse," forty or fifty times until I want to bludgeon my CD player with my skull. The lyrics...I don't want to get into it more because I already feel like I am being mean, but "Paste-bait," best describes them. I'll just say, I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans, and disc one, track four only conjures a New Orleans of a novelist's construction. I hate that kind of crap, and I majored in Creative Writing.
I am okay with being a little mean here, though, because so many people have been so incredibly nice to this album. This includes the reviewer I mentioned at this start of this review, who helped me realize very firmly that I am not him, or anybody else. After discovering how much I extremely disliked this reviewer's favorite band, I then looked more closely at his reviews and suddenly realized that we were nothing alike. I absolutely hated how he always used the pronoun "we" when talking about his own personal opinions in regard to a film. When he said "we feel" I often angrily thought "I DON'T FEEL THIS WAY! WHO IS WE?" Art is experienced subjectively by the individual! It isn't we! It is I! I! Not we! I! (This gets a bit of a rise out of me, if you can't tell). Also, any film with themes about masculinity or being a man seemed to go completely over his head. The last straw (haven't read a review since) came several years later while reading his No Country for Old Men review, where he completely misread Josh Brolin's any man character as "Maintaining a caveman’s stupefied expression, he makes us wonder if Moss might be related to The Big Lebowski‘s “Dude.” No, he doesn't make "us" wonder anything! I know I just said that art is completely subjective, but that reading is so wrong, it is baffling that someone paid the reviewer to write about it. When the Coen Brother's show Brolin's face, and Brolin isn't talking, it is because his character is in a nearly impossible situation, and is thinking of what he should do next. He isn't stupefied. He isn't related to the dude. Ugh. This derailed. My bad. I don't like Ohio.

2003 Back Porch Records

Disc One
1. B.P.D. 4:31
2. What I'll Remember Most 4:28
3. Show Me 4:20
4. Jesus In New Orleans 5:45
5. Ohio 5:13
6. Suitcase 3:25
7. Anything At All 3:36
8. Professional Daydreamer 4:30
9. Lifelong Fling 5:45
10. Changes Come 5:31

Disc Two
1. Long Lost Brother 4:41
2. She 4:32
3. Nobody Number One 4:15
4. Cruel And Pretty 4:16
5. Remind Us 3:05
6. How Long Have You Been Stoned 3:40
7. When You Say Love 2:45
8. Fool 4:04
9. Hometown Boy 3:56
10. Bothered 5:07
11. Idea #21 (Not Too Late) 3:41


Jessica said...

I know only one thing for sure about Over the Rhine. I was once at a FIF concert where Roper kept saying that if I didn't go watch this super late show (or super early, I can't remember for sure) that Over the Rhine had decided to play, then I would die. He said it about 15 times over the course of their own show: "If you don't go see Over the Rhine play, you will all definitely die." Now, I mean, he obviously meant that I would die anyway, whether I went to see them or not, but the joke was played out after the second time he said it, and I didn't really need to hear it a million more times.

Thus, I have decided to never listen to Over the Rhine, and I generally agree with your taste (oh, did I learn nothing from your post?!) and will keep to this promise I made to myself about 15 years ago. Thank you for justifying this completely arbitrary promise to myself. :D

Nicholas said...

This came out in 2003, and FIF "broke up" in 2003, so you probably heard Roper say that before I listened to it, meaning that your arbitrary promise to yourself most likely predates my opinion on the matter, so technically, your dislike for Over the Rhine is the original! My decidedly non-arbitrary dislike is late to the party!

Jessica said...

I think your non-arbitrary dislike trumps my arbitrary promise over a played-out joke, though. I'm just glad to have non-arbitrary reinforcement for my arbitrary promise.

Azure Ides-Grey said...

I've always disliked the name "Over the Rhine" ... just sounds kind of, I don't know ... tacky ... that and it reminds me of that part of the watermelon that, I would guess, nearly nobody enjoys eating, this is to say, the rind.

Nicholas said...

Over the Cherry Pits
Over the Apple Core
Over the Strawberry Stem
Over the Kiwi Skin

All better names!