Oso Oso’s The Yunahon Mixtape is one of the first great records of 2017.
While Mixtape initially plays as neither a massive leap in sound nor subject matter from 2015’s fantastic Real Stories of True People, Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters, this gleaned impression proves only sort-of true. Like its predecessor, Mixtape once again finds Oso Oso’s Jade Lilitri crafting uber-melodic pop-rock at perhaps its catchiest and most substantive; both records are likewise packed with tightly-penned hooks and bright, biting guitar lines that nearly belie Lilitri’s gripping mixture of conversational vignettes and confessional subtext. It is quickly apparent, though, that Mixtape features sharper and more ambitious vocals, as well as a higher-level of storytelling (see: “The Slope,” “The Walk”), than was featured on prior releases. It is a landmark record for Lilitri, and one which now cements his status as an ascending force within the pop punk genre he more-often-than-not inhabits.
Lilitri’s former band State Lines was in many ways a familiar breed of coarsely-melodic pop punk; the Long Island, NY band’s sustained cult following post-disbandment, though, is due in large part to the fact that Lilitri’s songwriting instincts were, even in servicing hooks often about cigarettes and the pains of growing up, always preternaturally sharp. His vocals, once a source of confessional urgency, have with each Oso Oso record become more trained to melody and emotional precision. In fact, hyper-melodicism may be Lilitri’s greatest strength as a songwriter; buoyed by his penchant for multi-track harmonies and anthemic swells, Mixtape’s songs once again place Lilitri among the rare echelon of artists who can consistently balance the desire to create resonant, catchy, and compositionally interesting music.
Single-worthy Side A standout “Reindeer Games” is perhaps Oso Oso’s tightest song to date, its ethereal backdrop and dialogous verses giving way to a chorus of skewed but sweet sentiments “and i mean if you want, we can just stay here/ wrap me in your claws, i can be your reindeer/ when they turn out the lights/ that way i can write your name here, cause we know what you like, you can have it every day here.” Other Side A standouts such as “The Bearer of the Truths” and “Get There (When You’re There)” clock in at about two-and-a-half minutes apiece, the former a bouncy and abrupt pop punk tune whose sudden shifts in tone and texture recall former-tourmates The Hotelier; the latter track a plucked-out figure eight, reverberating in natural acoustics against the forceless strain of Lilitri’s voice. Album closer “Out of the Blue,” among Lilitri’s most thoroughly impressive tracks across any album or project, feels in part like a tongue-in-cheek summation of his songwriting . “Sorry that was out of that blue, all those things that I just told you,” he sings amongst the track’s initial burst. “I don’t blame you if you’re feeling confused. I would too.”
Oso Oso’s music has always felt like a home movie or a short story, each track acting as a compact statement about life as seen through Lilitri’s ambitious use of voice and perspective, as well as his depictions of relationships which have become defined, at least in part, by single conversations, words, or moments. These two extra years of reflection and refinement as both a lyricist and composer have made it so that, even more so than Real Stories, The Yunahon Mixtape relentlessly showcases Lilitri’s ability to not only construct lived-in moments, but to weave them into songs so great you often forget they’re there.
Watch Oso Oso play an acoustic version of “Great Big Beaches” for Bomb Shelter Sessions: