Originally appeared on Grimy Goods.
You can pretty much sell me on any music that utilizes a banjo. I have regular arguments with my mother about the third Mumford & Sons album, in which they decided to ditch the glorious instrument; she thinks removing it made them sound more modern, but my retort is that any music can sound as modern or dated as the artist intends. Naturally, she’s not the only person to think banjos belong solely in Americana standards; when I saw Lady Lamb perform at the Echo last year, she acted surprised when the crowd didn’t comment on it. “Most people hoot and holler when they see this,” she explained.
Well, sorry to all the haters: the banjo ain’t leaving anytime soon. Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, and many other indie crossover darlings have incorporated it in their acts, and in a few years, Oh Pep!, a duo from Melbourne, Australia, will join their ranks. To me, they already have, with their unique take on indie rock including banjos and mandolins. Thier debut LP, Stadium Cake is filled with a masterful whimsy that have earned them attention from NPR, the New York Times, and our beloved local KCRW, too.
Oh Pep! is helmed by Olivia Hally and Pepita Emmerichs. At the risk of insulting everyone’s intelligence, I’d like to point out that their band name is derived from the first syllable of each of their names. They have been making music since 2012, and released three EPs before embarking on their full length, which came out last week. With four years of lead-up, they’ve had plenty of time to hone their sound into something distinct. You can hear influences from a wide range of performers- Paul Simon, Aimee Mann — but finding a comparable contemporary is tough.
There are notable parallels I can make, however, with the banjo-lover I mentioned earlier, Aly Spaltro aka Lady Lamb. Spaltro’s “Billions of Eyes” could be considered a foil to the opening track on Stadium Cake, both addressing the stresses of catching the New York subway in a wider day-in-the-life-style narrative. Both acts base their lyrics on modern, relatable stories, and convey even the more emotional tales with an upbeat energy; you’ll never catch these ladies feeling sorry for themselves. “Crazy Feels” and “Tea Milk and Honey” deal with self-doubt and inevitable disappointment, but never leave you feeling the same melancholy that it must have taken to write those tracks. In fact, they become explicitly unapologetic on tracks like “Happenstance” and “Trouble Now”:
“Don’t come to me when your love’s dried up
I’m helping you now, you said you were stuck
I’m stuck too, much more than you
I’m still helping you now cuz you asked me to
We’re in it together whether you like it or not
Put that thing down don’t you fire a shot
I said put that thing down don’t fire a shot
Let’s make that clear”
Though the album does open up with the inimitable banjo, many other sounds bleed together to give Oh Pep! its own unique flavor. Their single, “Doctor Doctor,” uses a mandolin to anchor the melody, but feels more like an indie rock anthem than a bluegrass ballad. The same whining flutes that gave me chills on “Monday Afternoon” by Marika Hackman give depth to Oh Pep!’s “Trouble.” Even Rostam Batmanglij would approve of the violins on “Tea Milk and Honey,” which remind me of his work circa-“Diplomat’s Son.”
The group will return to LA in late July, and somehow, this will be my third time seeing these gals in under a year. They were the coveted special guests at School Night a few months ago, and also played at Room 5 late last year, a teeny space above an Italian restaurant on La Brea that has since permanently closed its doors. (The restaurant, Amalfi, remains open.) Naturally, I was the entitled asshole that selfishly asked them to play a more recognizable venue such as the Bootleg, where I argued they would get a better turnout, but I stand by those words — the Bootleg is exactly where they will be playing on July 28th. I hope it sells out, if only to validate me even further.
And if it does sell out, I promise not to hog the foot of the stage like I did with Cub Sport. I love Oh Pep! but I already embarrassed myself at Room 5, so I think I’ve filled my quota. Pick up Stadium Cake, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from- there’s nothing to dislike about Oh Pep!