Bandcamp page for Eurus, the new EP from Texas-based The Oh Hellos, one fan writes, “Listen for the Leitmotifs. Who else puts Leitmotifs in their music?” That the group — founded and led by duo Tyler and Maggie Heath — has people referencing a phrase more commonly associated with Classical compositions and operas (the word itself dates back to the 17th century and refers to musical themes and phrases — melodic, rhythmic or otherwise — that are repeated throughout a piece of music) perfectly sums up the depth of its smart but accessible music.
There are moments of intensely well-thought-out complexity, but they don’t blaringly scream, “I have a Master of Music in Composition from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee!” Or perhaps they do (though it’s more of a knowing nod), in the way in which that aspect is so incredibly well worked into the overall sound.
Just as characterizing The Oh Hellos’ music as simply “Indie Rock” or “Indie Folk” is reductive, describing the intricacies risks taking away from the gut-level joy and emotional weight that emanates from it. While jaw-dropping opener “O Sleeper” sounds like it could have been transcribed from a rich, winding orchestral piece, augmented with lyrics, harmonies and different instrumentation (like guitars, a drum kit and a few “fiddles” in the strings mix), there are also songs like the title track, which is presented in a more traditional “Pop song” manner, though is no less memorable or alluring. And, yes, the EP’s seven tracks are threaded together with recurrent melodic themes, giving it a symphonic cohesiveness that makes it all the more impactful as a whole, yet — thanks to those strong contemporary songwriting skills — easily dissectible for playlisting or airplay.
The Oh Hellos’ music is the best of many worlds. The layered gang vocals and sky-kissed melodies create a soaring ebullience à la Arcade Fire or Polyphonic Spree. The less extroverted writing recalls the gentler majesty of artists like Sufjan Stevens, Beirut or Fleet Foxes. The “Americana instrumentation” (banjos, accordion, etc.) gives the music a rootsy sheen that might perk up the ears of Avett Brothers or The Head and the Hear fans. There are also more bluntly Pop-oriented hooks that could draw in the masses that love The Lumineers and their ilk.
Last year, Paste did a 100 best Indie Folk albums list spotlighting the breadth of that nebulous descriptor, and perhaps it actually is fitting for The Oh Hellos, in that the group represents the huge amount of overlapping “genres within the genre,” almost all at once. While that might make it seem like their music is a chaotic mélange, it’s anything but. The harmonious grace that imbues Eurus is the most brilliant recurrent theme of all.