Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
Oh, My Girl
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2005, Volume 12, #2
Written by John Metzger
Constructing an album around a series of somber, sleepy songs is a risky proposition, but on her sophomore effort Oh, My Girl, Jesse Sykes found a way to make it work. At its core, Sykes’ music is pure alt-country — which isn’t much of a surprise considering that Whiskeytown’s original guitarist Phil Wandscher serves as Sykes’ primary collaborator — but wrapped around its periphery are the broader influences of Neil Young and Nick Drake, Sam Phillips and Margo Timmins, Chris Isaak and Portishead. Oddly enough, the end result is a close cousin to Gillian Welch’s beautiful but disquieting endeavors, although Sykes’ sophomore effort shares more of Welch’s ambient moodiness than it does her rustic, creaking charms. Indeed, where Welch follows her ghosts across the dusky back roads of Appalachia, Sykes’ wraiths shade her folk and blues motifs with a psychedelic aura, giving them a more contemporary, David Lynch-ian air that suitably frames her glacially-paced, regret-filled ruminations on life and love. There’s a vagueness to her lyrics, just as there is with her music; both are sketchily outlined and splattered with just enough color to enhance her melancholy mood. There’s tension, too, but it’s not orchestrated via the sort of flashy, in-your-face angst that tends to fill most alt-country fare; instead the arrangements pit Sykes’ sad-eyed and wistful vocals against a narcotic backdrop of assorted instrumentation: a touch of flugelhorn and trombone here, a smattering of banjo and mandolin there, and an abundance of viola passages that drift despondently; Wurlitzer chords that hum uneasily; and guitar riffs that tumble and crash, blow like a icy wind, or echo an aching cry. As each song unfolds, it walks a fine line between sparse, minor-key atmospherics and a strange, hypnotic richness, through which Sykes’ voice glides and darts, yearns and mourns, allowing her to escape gracefully from her dirge-like poses. The result is a pensive and dreamy set that contains all of the depth and deliberation of a perfect cinematic experience, one that digs deep into the human psyche and asks more questions than it answers. Granted, there are countless works of art that explore similar themes and employ comparable textures, but rarely are they anywhere near as gripping, from start to finish, as Oh, My Girl.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box