Reviews

Oh Holy Fools

Author: Joella Y. Sun
01/22/2001 | Unpop.com | www.unpop.com | Album Review
Joe Knapp, yet another talented musician from Omaha, is in good company with bands such as Bright Eyes, The Faint, Cursive, The Good Life and Lullaby for the Working Class. He's only 20 years old, but his father is a musician and Joe himself started writing songs when he was fifteen years old. For the past several years, he served as the drummer for Bright Eyes, and we heard his voice in the opening track of Bright Eyes' album Every Day and Every Night. In the song "A Line Allows Progress, A Circle Does Not", Joe and Conor's voices go back and forth singing. And much like the way their voices interplay in that song, Oh Holy Fools, the Bright Eyes/Son, Ambulance split from Saddle Creek, is laid out in a similar fashion.

Oh Holy Fools is the second collaboration of Conor Oberst and Joe Knapp. They released an In Sound Tour Support split (3 songs by Bright Eyes, 3 songs by Ambulance) CD last summer in which Conor introduced his friend Joe and his band Ambulance. Knapp's band was just called Ambulance then, but he added the Son part after his three year old son Neal; Son, comma, Ambulance in the order of the important things in his life; and also, the comma is apparently for his attempt to keep the two things separate. However, Joe and his young son appear together in many photos, and references to his son or/and Neal's voice on a song are not uncommon. It is clear that his son is a big part of Joe's life and his muse and perhaps it is due to the presence of a child in his life that Joe's songs have a more brighter tone than the usual Saddle Creek music.

It is the contrast between the lighter, happier tone of Son, Ambulance and Conor Oberst's anguished, heartbreaking songs that is noticeable in the way the songs are arranged, like layers of cake and frosting -- the album starts out with a song by Son, Ambulance called "Brown Park" in which Joe laments about watching kids plays at a playground. The next song is by Bright Eyes called "Going for the Gold" and, in a familiar Bright Eyes fashion, begins with a pretty guitar melody before being joined by a flute and eventually Conor's angst-ridden voice calling out, "There is a voice on the phone telling what had happened..."

Oh Holy Fools is four songs by Bright Eyes and four songs by Son, Ambulance, eight in total. The cover artwork is a stunning painting by a friend of theirs, Doug Koepsel and is very beautiful and intricate. The content, however, is good but not necessarily as satisfying nor multi-layered as the cover would suggest.

The best Son, Ambulance track is track number seven, "Kaite Come True." It's a gorgeous song, a simple melody of tight guitar strumming and pretty piano backing. And with Joe's voice singing about hidden beauty everywhere, it's an absolutely breath-taking song.

Joe Knapp, like Conor Oberst and Tim Kasher, is a talented songwriter. His lyrics are poetic and lovely. Son, Ambulance is fortunate to be the new kid on the exclusive Saddle Creek label and very lucky to work with Mike Mogis at Dead Space and the other talented group of revolving musicians in Omaha. But at the same time, I suspect that his music will be subjected to comparison with the other Saddle Creek bands. Or at least until he releases his first full-length album, due out in August, and establishes his own, clear voice and style.

Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes delivers his usual mix of angsty vocals screaming about love and pain, with the occasional sound of unusual instrumentation in the background. Conor is best seen at a live performance -- as all true, great musicians should be. And once you do, you'll be able to figure out why there are hundreds of young, stylish indie/emo girls in love with Conor and his music. And I must confess that I, too, fell under his spell the first time I saw him perform and I went through a phase where I couldn't get enough of Bright Eyes. That voice, the thoughtful lyrics, the sensitivity, the angst, the brooding tendencies, the self-destructive behavior and of course, all that heart-felt emotion displayed as he flays around on stage, singing about love and death and everything in between. And it helps that the boy is very pretty. But now, I'm past the longing-for-Conor stage and I can see more clearly. There's no doubt that he's a brilliant musician. The songs on Oh Holy Fools are good, but perhaps not as great as some of his other songs. But in any case, Bright Eyes fans will enjoy them and, at the same time, they will be introduced to potentially another great Saddle Creek band hailing from Omaha, Nebraska -- the place of the good life.
Oh Holy Fools

Oh Holy Fools

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