Oh No Not Stereo is a high energy melodic rock band from Los Angeles formed by Skyler Nielsen and Mykul Lee. The duo has toured relentlessly, and with quality music has been able to maintain the rights to their created music (as opposed to losing them to a record company); which has allowed them to distribute their music through licensing, publishing, and of course selling records. Oh No Not Stereo’s has previously had tracks featured on a variety of MTV shows, including the reboot of Beavis and Butthead, Bam’s Unholy Union, and Meet the Barkers. Interestingly enough, Oh No Not Stereo has been able to maintain somewhat of an “underground” personality; while also divulging into mainstream television and on tours with popular bands like All-American Rejects.
In 2011, Oh No Not Stereo released their fifth full length album titled InCaseOfStaresUseFire. It is an eclectic blend of approachable experimental and highly melodic rock music. On quite a few tracks you will be able to hear influences from progressive rock (in a similar vein of Queen), as well as a very pop/punk influenced sound that has trickled through mainstream MTV’s soundwaves since the early 90’s. Needless to say, Oh No Not Stereo has created a very diverse and interesting album that has left a hefty impression on my mind. Additionally, the band has also created 10 music videos to coincide with each track. One of these you can see at the bottom of this page!
Skyler and Mykul collaborated with famous producer Jayson DeZuzion (Foxy Shazam, Coheed and Cambria), and as a result the sound quality on this album is downright perfect. I explored this album in rigorous detail, both through my shoddy Apple laptop speakers, as well as through my personal pair of studio headphones; and I could honestly find no flaws in the recordings or the overall production of this album. It is just perfectly done with regards to it’s tonal elements, and this is undoubtedly significantly related to the professionalism of this band and of their producer as well.
A major theme that I found on InCaseOfStaresUseFire is the diversity of sounds found from track to track. This idea jives heavily with a statement Skyler is quoted for on Oh No Not Stereo’s Wikipedia page: “We take a lot of pride in being independent, which allows us to do whatever we want musically,” Skyler says. “No two songs on this record are about the same thing or same person, yet each song was written in confidence that the listener will be able to relate.”
One moment you will witness a somewhat experimental ballad-like track (like on the track “Brighterside”, then in the next moment find yourself listening to a much more upbeat, classic rock infused breed of pop punk/rock such as on the track “Carnivores”. The 10 tracks on this full length album continually ebb-and-flow from one musical and thematic idea into another, making for a very interesting experience in a holistic sense.
COMPOSITION AND INSTRUMENTATION:
When it first came to my attention that I would be reviewing Oh No Not Stereo, I immediately was under the impression that this would be another stock pop/punk rock band. These initial fears were almost immediately quelled as I listened through the first few tracks, and realized that while there are certainly elements of pop/punk on this album (which is sensible considering their mainstream tendencies), especially with regards to some of the guitar chord progressions and the vocal stylings; I found that this album actually worked much more with elements of progressive rock (similar to one of my favorite bands Coheed and Cambria) and other styles as well.
On the tracks “Heartless” and “Carnivore” we are treated to a much more “typical” form of songwriting that makes for some great crowd pleasers when considering the band playing in live settings. Fortunately, many of the other tracks on this album explore alternative song structures in very significant ways. The track “Big Hero From a Small Town” brings out a very progressive and experimental form of song writing, and left me with a distinct sense that this band was influenced in some way by the popular and classic band Queen; especially with regards to their usage of piano throughout this piece.
The actual instrumentation on this album was also surprisingly diverse. While there is a heavy use of distorted guitar rhythms (as seems to be a significant trend in modern alternative rock and pop music in general), this grungy and hard rock/metal sound is countered often by the sound of lighter instrumentation in the form of piano, orchestral strings and woodwinds, as well as a variety of light synth sounds to lend to the atmosphere and surreal sense on some tracks (such as on “Static Friction Heart” and the aforementioned “Brighterside”). Not to mention, there are many guitar riffs that will certainly please crowds; from brief melodic licks like those found on the track “Time to Let It All Go” to more complex lead melodies and solos weaving in and out of a majority of the songs seen on this album. My personal favorite found on the track “Make My Move” because of the great guitar effects and the simplicity of the solo that almost mimics the newer solo structures of Coheed and Cambria, as well as other prog rock bands like Rush. Additionally, these solos and leads are fused into the music in such an eloquent way; and not just overlayed as some sort of amusing form of wankery that tends to come from many rock bands (yes, I am partially looking at the solos of Guns and Roses Slash).
Oh No Not Stereo has done a great job at creating compositions that are diverse both in terms of structuring and the instrumental incorporations. The only major flaw I found with regards to this album is one related to the holism of this album: I wish it would have ended with a nice acoustic ballad, or perhaps even a reprise of the downright beautiful and calming track “Brighterside.” The song writing on this album is heavily directed towards louder and more aggressive tonal experiences, which quite frankly left me wanting much more from the calm and heavily atmospheric side of their songwriting. Still, this is a relatively minor issue I have taken with this album; but it is certainly worth pointing out.
VOCALS AND LYRICS:
Every track on this album is built for vocals, and as a result the vocals found on these tracks fit very well. Lead vocalist Skyler has managed to form his own vocal sound reminiscent of pop/punk acts like Sugarcult and even more recent acts like Fall Out Boy to a certain degree. Additionally, on occasion there are also screamed vocals (such as those found on the track “Can’t Hide Out Forever”) that add heavily to the complexity of the tracks in subtle ways. While I felt there could have been a little more experimentation in the vocal department (such as the usage of some more “bizarre” vocal effects on a few tracks or even the incorporation of a female vocalist to offset the masculine atmospheres), overall I would say that the vocals were performed very well and will undoubtedly satisfy the mainstream audience this music is undoubtedly directed towards.
The lyrics on this album range from very well done to more or less mediocre. Of course, analyzing any form of poetry is certainly subjective; but as someone who very infrequently listens to pop music because of the lyrical content, critiquing the lyrics seems pretty fair. On the track “Carnivores” I was set aback by the simplicity of the lyrical content, and after observing the “political” nature of this song throughout the verses; the chorus managed to feel pretty dull to my ears. The redeeming factor about this particular track is how it is able to hook you into the tracks like any good alternative rock styled piece of music should, and as a result the lyrical blemish may be easier to overlook.
On the other end of the lyrical spectrum come the tracks “Brighterside” and “Big Hero From a Small Town” (my two personal favorites from InCaseOfStaresUseFire). The vocal melodies are cemented firmly into my mind in their collaboration with the lyrical qualities. A particularly lovely lyric from “Brighterside” is as follows: “These are the days we’re living strong, look the other way when I say, I finally understand that my life is in my hands, look on the brighter side cause any minute you could die.” Contained in this track is a bold statement of movement from pessimistic depression to a much more optimistic outlook on life. Of course, there is likely more depth to these lyrics then even I can see; but the point is this: the lyrics on this album are wholly pretty well done. Not perfect by any stretch, and at certain points a little too grotesquely poppy; but at the end of the day I am certain most people will enjoy the lyrics.
Oh No Not Stereo has produced 10 downright great tracks that range in style and atmosphere. One moment the listener is engaged in a soft ballad, and the next is filled with progressive rock riffs blended with their trademark brand of melodic pop/punk rock. I understand that it may appear that I have shown significant bias towards this music, but this significantly positive review only highlights on simple fact: the music on InCaseOfStaresUseFire is well composed, well produced, and interesting enough to maintain my attention from track to track.
The only major qualm I have at the end of this day is with regards to the track lengths, as most of them average between 2.5 – 3 minutes in length. Considering the excellent songwriting and the ability to construct great prog rock riffs, I only wish that Oh No Not Stereo would incorporate some longer tracks in future releases. With that said, I highly recommend InCaseOfStaresUseFire and imagine that if you are a fan of melodic rock, progressive rock, pop/punk, and similar styles of music, you will have no problem adding this album into your collection.
SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:
Oh No Not Stereo Website (you can stream/buy the album and other merch here!)
Oh No Not Stereo Facebook