Oso Leone - Mokragora

by David Bruggink Rating:9 Release Date:2014-06-30

As a longtime follower of ECM Records, I've always been entranced by recordings that offer a finely balanced mixture of silence and sound, which allow empty space to control the mood as much as melody. This passion comes through in other genres as well. As a college freshman, I idolized Talk Talk's final two albums, and I searched relentlessly for other bands that imbued their songs with the same appreciation for sacred atmosphere and mellifluous textures.

I had mixed results: I loved Elbow when they were in a contemplative mood, but I found their other material harder to stomach; Efterklang showed promise, particularly on Piramida, but despite its intriguing sound design, it ultimately failed to make a lasting impression on me. I've since decided to stop trying to find a replacement for Talk Talk, but I'm still struck when a band demonstrates a preternatural gift for subtlety.

Knowing how rarely I stumble onto such gems, I came to Oso Leone expecting another example in the unfortunate trend of indie albums with Beach House-style guitars, quiet moments giving way to nauseating "whuh-oh-oh" choruses à la The Lumineers, and at best, maybe some xx-inspired minimalism. What I found was altogether more esoteric and invigorating. 
 
Opener 'Ficus' is a breathtaking presentation of the best that Oso Leone has to offer. It comes into focus gradually, building from a simple kick, pulsating organ, and shards of iridescent guitar. Out of the Balearic vapor, the drums gather momentum, the formerly sedate guitar becomes a rhythmic throb, and the song lifts into the stratosphere. It's a stunning moment among many on Mokragora, neither as populist as the indie pablum I was expecting, nor as inscrutable and long-winded as post-rock can often be.

The album's sound palette is a refreshing collage of electronic instruments and acoustic ones - lithe electric bass, classical guitar, and echoing percussion sit comfortably beside abstract pads and reverb-drenched piano. The guitar tone seems to take some inspiration from Mark Hollis' distinctive playing on Laughing Stock, but this does nothing to dampen Oso Leone's talent for building to compelling moments. Similar to Dawn of Midi, the band's hypnotic repetition of phrases and gradual addition of new elements often gives the music a decidedly electronic vibe ('Monstera'), yet the players' synergy and skill makes the album feel uniformly organic and engaging.

The lack of a single that gets off to a flying start admittedly appeals to me as an annoying snob, and perhaps I'm hoping that Pitchfork and all the Lumineers- and Local Natives-loving hipsters won't make Oso Leone their next fashionable band. But it's hard to imagine that would be a risk, as the album unfolds with such patience and elegance that it makes most of their contemporaries seem almost vulgar by comparison. This gifted young band has established themselves as very much worthy of our attention with Mokragora, and capable of even greater things to come.

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