Self-produced, 2014. Ottawa: http://www.listentoottawa.com/
I am writing this on a morning when Imagine Dragons appeared in concert on the Today Show. Ottawa is far, far better than them--stronger musically, lyrically, and stylistically. They’re a new band, having formed on Cleveland’s west side in 2014, although the musicians themselves aren’t brand new. Random Lights is their first release, and it’s a fine one, reflecting influences as various as Fleetwood Mac and Oasis, as well as the inevitable Black Keys. The result is a sound that is pop-oriented rock with an edge, part blues and part punk, taking them to a level above many other groups.
They have a several things going for them. First is some excellent material to work with. The songs are really good, all original, with excellent lyrics, sophisticated structures, and nice hooks. A great example is the title track that starts off the album, with its upbeat, insistent rhythm, slightly punkish attitude, and tempo changes and bridges that are consistently interesting. Other songs follow suit, without seeming imitative. Second is Dale DeLong’s vocals, which are not exactly pretty, but highly appealing, and help to sell the songs. He strains at the lyrics, wails a bit, and has a ragged edge (a higher-sounding Billy Idol?). He certainly holds the listener’s attention. The harmonies are good too, especially noticeable in “Tarantino” and “Tempo,” two songs that I find highly appealing. Enormous energy is the third quality, as exemplified by the second track, “The Good Kind,” and its overpowering sound. Finally, the musicians are very capable, with Tim Czajka’s guitar the most noticeable ingredient here. His guitar breaks and punctuation are memorable, stabbing and slashing, and adding to the high energy delivery. The band itself is tight, and the rhythm section is strong. They know what they want to do and do it in a way that is both efficient and organic. They sound like they’ve been playing together for years.
A couple of tracks fall flat for me. “Blondie” is the closest thing to a ballad, and doesn’t move me the way most of the other songs do. “Separator” sounds like Black Keys lite, and the lyrics seem less interesting than the rest of the songs here. Those quibbles aside, the band has done a remarkable job for a debut album. This is music that can stick in your head, which is the key to rock music that lasts. Ottawa will be playing at the House of Blues in August. Catch them when you can.
Personnel: Dale DeLong (vocals), William Hooper (guitar, piano), Tim Czajka (guitar), Chris Williams (bass), Steve Crobar (drums), with additional instrumentation by Suzy Scullin and Jim Stewart.
Tracks: Random Lights, The Good Kind, Lie to Me, Separator, Tarantino, Tempo, Dodge City, Blondie.