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Oberhofer: Smothered

Updated: Feb 2, 2022


The latest release from Los Angeles-based composer Brad Oberhofer is a stunningly produced and proudly retro LP, blasting the new wave synths and thickly textured arrangements to get the most out of its tentative glances into heartache and regret. Filled with catchy electronic hooks and a dream-pop aesthetic, if you look through the haze there’s still a deeply troubled centre to this work.

Most of the album is focused on creating this psychedelic, dream-like feel, with lush synth backings and calming vocal textures ensuring that all the rough edges have been smoothed over. There’s a prominent sense of nostalgia throughout the music, and yet it’s all set against lyrical themes of angst, loneliness and being unsure of one’s place in life. Oberhofer's lyrics seem hazy in their recollection, never being specific, vaguely glimpsing at deep-seated.

It’s almost as if the music is inebriating its subject from any further pain, only looking at life’s problems through a comforting haze where the emptiness can’t reach us anymore. Even the vocals appear unaware of anything wrong with what they’re saying. Oberhofer’s voice is too well established in its psychedelic backing, the light touches of reverb and his slipping in and out of falsetto leave no space for angst. His singing in the soulful Let It Go adds a certain boisterous extroversion that proves his range, but for the most part, he’s closed off in his dream world, numb to his own words.

When the music decides to step outside of this introspection, it’s never good news. SUNSHiiNE is a prime example. The lyrics reflect someone in love and obviously happy about it, but the music feels far from stable. As we hear about the singer’s heart skipping a beat at the sign of a lover’s message, the euphoria sets in. The music seems more hurried than in the rest of the album, the drums obsessing over every quaver as if trying desperately to keep up with itself. The lush arrangements are still there, but they no longer take their time to sink into the texture. The chord changes feel abrupt and disorienting in the confusion. The distorted guitar solo again feels like it’s about to burn itself out, unable to find a recognisable melody or hook through the short time it’s given. It feels like any good emotion he finds himself with isn't sustainable, leaving him the same lonely person he started out as, trying to hide away in his dreams of synths and psychedelia.

The record’s ability to hide its true feelings behind quality production values and irony is well executed in the last track, Friends in Heaven. The first verse is restrained, with the slight electric acoustic guitar picking almost louder than the vocals. The vocals are always one beat behind the guitar, feeling dislocated and lost. The reprise, underscored with strings and ghostly whistles, gives the song’s message an undercurrent of genuine feeling. It’s a sober ending to an album that often likes to hide its emotion and confuse us. But it reaches through in the end, just as there’s hope at bay.

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