March 2002 – album reviews – Ovahead’s ‘Sound Venture’ (“more comfortable in their new terrain of eclectic groove and friendly soundclashes than they are with guitar rock”)

18 Mar
Ovahead: 'Sound Venture'

Ovahead: ‘Sound Venture’

Deprived of their singer Chris Joyce (apparently drawn away by some cryptic act of God), Norwich genre-malcontents Ovahead have rethought their music since “A Perfect View of Everybody Else”. The mixed flavours of their follow-up suggest that perhaps they’re enjoying the process more than the conclusions.

A good third of ‘Sound Venture’ suggests that, rather than replacing Joyce outright, Ovahead are sidling away from the constrictive demands of indie songwriting in order to tackle the other options offered by their taste for eclectic musicianship. Although keyboard player Mark Jennings now contributes have-a-go (albeit uninspiringly mumbled) vocals, it’s rarely with the conviction of a committed singer. And although half the songs are still thick with guitars, ‘Sound Venture’ eventually owes more to the layered pop sound-building of music like mid-period Beastie Boys or Disco Inferno as it does to guitar-whacking moments from Ovahead’s Norfolk contemporaries like Magoo (although the latter’s Owen Taylor presided over the album mix).

There’s not much bad news for trad-indie fans, who’ll be appeased by the chunks of the album which fall back on reliable indie-pub staples. Ovahead can still churn out the wind-tunnel rock of ‘Timely Strike’, the acoustic dreampop mumble of ‘Comfy’ (decidedly more woolly jumper than crystal cathedral) or the scruffy Creation Records psychedelia of ‘The Sky is Lowering’, and they can still sing through a scuffed lens of memory about clouds and summer days, companionship and unspoken change. They can also grease up for the Hawkwind biker-art grind of ‘dy/dx’; which cops some disturbed moods from the ghost of Slint, jiggling in disoriented fashion between math-rock and faith-rock on top of its urgent, pummelling single-note riff.

But given the choice between lazy psychedelic mutterings like “the little boy with golden hair turned out to be the enemy” on one hand, or Ovahead’s friend/occasional sound provider Claire S. caught on voicemail enthusing “I blasted a bit of steel – now that is a wicked noise!” on the other, I’m more tempted to go for the one which sounds Powerbook instead of by-the-book. And I suspect that the band share the same temptations, given that even the most predictable of their “new Ovahead” excursions (the pleasant, rustically organic rare-groove-trip-hop of ‘Palmist on Bronco’, complete with well-aged cinema organ and sweet cascades of Bittersweet Symphony string pomp) seems far fresher than anything they’ve cooked up for ‘Sound Venture’ with two guitars in a room.

Ovahead are, if anything, more comfortable in their new terrain of eclectic groove and friendly soundclashes than they are with guitar rock. Quiet yet animated snatches of studio chat swim in the mix, apparently fascinated with instruction manuals and the drop-in/drop-out possibilities of DJ culture. ‘Me and My Headphones’ has them embracing the world of laptop-pop, cranking some rich moodies and techno leanings out of their technology like a shyer Super Furry Animals, with some sweet naive strums of acoustic guitar frisking along in its wake.

On ‘Ill Descent’, they’ve discovered how to feed their psychedelic leanings through a squash of mix’n’match processes. Another would-be trip hop groove blends with a sampleadelic intro of blurred, folded brass straight from Jon Hassell’s Fourth World. A booming twist of noise (either extreme guitar or a massively-amplified turntable scratch) haunts the background like a malformed Moebius strip or like ice scoring the Titanic’s hull; while swimming incursions of out-of-phase clocks and double-speed jungle loops tease and stretch at Ovahead’s portrayal of time.

Some of this is pulled back with them whenever the tides of their motivation return them to guitar rock. The powerfully atmospheric ‘Shadow of the Sun’ might owe a few conceptual dues to New Order for its verses, Husker Du for its choruses, and Mogwai for its ferocious gloom. But the fluttering soprano and G-funk whine are all Ovahead, as is the way all these ingredients pull together to feed the bad-acid intensity (“I wanna pay you back for all I couldn’t say. / The simple facts so hard to explain / a momentary lapse in a chemist’s brain.”).

‘Analogue vs. Digital’ is steeped from title to root in their new awareness of dance manoeuvres, but deliberately undercut, its uneasy and drunken guitar distortion and queasy unbalanced funk somehow lending it a powerful homesickness. “These instruments fight because they can’t decide” puzzles Mark as the band for a moment resemble Bark Psychosis arm-wrestling Ray Manzarek, though the Numan-esque analogue synths buzzing over the blue beats at the end sign the song off in a strangely perky and faux-confident manner.

Decisiveness – between tracks at least – isn’t the best quality of ‘Sound Venture’. But the widening loop of Ovahead’s thinking certainly is.

Ovahead: ‘Sound Venture’
Fire Records, FIRECD075 (8 092361 007523)
CD-only album
18th March 2002
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand, or streamed via Spotify.
Ovahead online:
YouTube Spotify Amazon Music
Additional notes: (2020 update) Ovahead’s Mark Jennings is now half of Broads.

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