Ozma – Boomtown [2014] (Album Review)

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Ozma

When I was a teenager, my bandmates and I bonded over our affinity of similar music, as many artists do. A big inspiration was Weezer and that opened the floodgates to a whole array of other modern power pop, from groups like The Rentals, That Dog, Rooney, Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids,  Ash, and Saves The Day. I was actually fortunate enough to see many of these bands play (usually opening for Weezer) during my high school and college years, but the one Weezer opening act I missed out on was Ozma and I’ve always been disappointed by that.

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Ozma have often been called “the poor man’s Weezer” or “a blatant Weezer ripoff” and there’s no denying the similarities between the two bands, but to me that never seemed to be a flaw. Why would it bother me that there was another band producing a sound I really enjoyed? It didn’t and I became a big fan of Ozma. Their debut album, Rock and Roll Part 3, is one of those albums where I love every song and it served as a springboard for me to immerse myself in their whole catalog of work.

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Unfortunately said catalog is woefully small. They put out 3 albums before breaking up in 2004. However 2007 saw an eager and excited me listening to their reunion album Pasadena, and that album is another where it’s hard to find shortcomings. The magic was short-lived as they broke up again in 2007 and this time I got the sinking feeling it was for good.

Imagine my surprise when yesterday, totally on a whim, I googled “Ozma reunion” to find that not only was Ozma back together and  performing on the Weezer Cruise, but they had also recorded a new album called Boomtown. Needless to say I wasted no time in downloading it (I don’t miss driving to CD stores!) and as soon as the sluggish abomination that is iTunes allowed me to hit play I was giddy with excitement. So, did the long hiatus allow Ozma’s creative juices the proper time to gestate? Or is it a misstep?

PrintThe opening track is an instrumental track. It’s got hard, pounding drums and unrelenting distorted guitars just riffing, and it straddles the line between sounding powerfully aggressive and simultaneously pleasant. This is what Ozma has always done best. No matter how hard they rock, they never forget to put a bit of cheer in everything.

It transitions seamlessly into track 2, Nervous. Again this is a fairly high-tempo, distorted wall of sound, but where it stands apart from most loud, shitty rock, is it’s beautifully melodic. There is a guitar riff on the chorus that sticks in my head like my social security number and the vocal melody is equally infectious. Female keyboardist, Star Wick, takes a turn singing and her voice compliments the track wonderfully. Her voice reminds me of one of the Haden sisters (and now more good news! They just released an album too) with a bit of Hayley Williams from Paramore. On past albums Star Wick sang backup, which I also found to be hauntingly beautiful, but here she shows she’s an equally capable lead vocalist.

Her time is short-lived as the third track, You’d Think I Know, finds the men back on the mic. In addition to adding the band’s vocals back into the signature sound, we get some fun trademark melodic synth flourishes from Wick between verses. This immediately grabbed me as an album highlight. While much of the song’s catchiness comes from the soothing “Oohs” and “Aahhs” repeated in the chorus, it also opens with a simplistic lyric that I really like:

“Every time I think you feel so close to me, it only goes to show how much I know.”

I just like that because it encapsulates how oblivious we sometimes are in our relationships.

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Ozma playing on the Weezer cruise last month. I’m so jealous of everyone who got to go.

Next up is “Girlfriend You’re The One.” It is more of a ballad, or as close as you’re going to get with Ozma. It borders on sounding like a track from The Cure, with the exception being that the vocals sound nothing like Robert Smith’s. It’s a slower, more melancholy sound with no distortion on the verses, until you reach the later choruses which explode with epic guitars and atmospheric synth. I really enjoy it, but I’m not afraid to admit that I can recognize that it’s not the most unique or original sounding song.

Right away we bounce back to the up-tempo. Unfortunately the abrasive opening of One Wish seems louder than what precedes it and I actually had to stop listening for a little while because it caused some sort of (hopefully temporary) damage to my left ear drum, which is obviously quite disconcerting. It opens with some of Wick’s keyboard wizardry, which sounded promising, but ultimately it never goes anywhere too interesting, and it feels more like a half-cooked b-side, rather than a track that belongs on a long-awaited official album. It’s not bad, but not terribly exciting either.

The first thing that stood out to me about track 6 is the title. It’s called Suicide Song. It sounds like something Kurt Cobain might’ve dreamed up, and as you can imagine, it isn’t the most cheerful song. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from just listening to the instruments. It’s fast-paced, with bright tones, and sounds strangely happy and optimistic. The lyrics however are a little more fitting to the title, such as:

“Everyone
Wanted me around when I was happy
Nobody
Wanted me around when I felt sad

All of our friends said that you’d work it out
Just give it time
But none of us knew all the pain that you felt in your mind
All the time”

While it does wallow in tragedy, the lyrics end on a hopeful note in line with the upbeat backing track:

“Everyone
Just have some fun
Nobody
Kill yourself”

I guess this is Ozma’s public service announcement? Either way, I liked this one a lot.

ozmaAnother interesting title comes from track 7, Tree Snake Son. It’s fairly average. On first and second listens it doesn’t grab me musically. However, the lyrics did stand out, but not in a positive way. It’s just a corny song preaching that “the world’s what you make it, If you see a chance you take it.” So far it’s the most forgettable and my least favorite.

Track 8, Blue Love, has an opening that reminds me of the intro to Tired of Sex by Weezer. This one sounds a lot better than it looks on paper. Here is a sample lyric to give you an idea of what I mean:

“One love – for the mother’s pride
One love – for the times we cried
One love – gotta stay alive
I will survive
One love – for the city streets
One love – for the hip-hop beats
One love, Oh I do believe
One love is all we need

Thankfully, despite the childish lyrics, the rest of the song is great. In fact, it’s another adhesive melody, so you might catch yourself singing along to these embarrassing words.

Ozma_Pledge_Music_Campaign_PhotoAgain, the pace is slowed for track 9. It instantly conjures images of a gray rainy day, which I think is suitable for its title, Out The Window. It’s the first time that a track is driven not by the keyboards or the crunchy electric guitars, but rather with an acoustic. It’s a low-key, intimate love song that makes you want to go curl up and snuggle with your paramour. I love it, especially because Ozma only make it about halfway through the song before guitar solos start playing and the distortion pedal is stepped on. It’s not jarring, and the loud explosive passages in the song’s latter half complement the quieter verses well.

Titular track Boomtown continues with the stripped down nature of Out The Window’s verses. It’s slower, softer, with a note of finality, and if I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought it was the album closer. After reading the sparse lyrics, I was curious about what a Boomtown is, and it’s exactly what I assumed.

“Boomtown (noun) – a town undergoing rapid growth due to sudden prosperity.”

It’s a pretty good song, but it’s missing something to keep it from being great. I stick by my guns in my belief that this would’ve been the best choice to wrap the LP up, but instead it’s the penultimate tune.

The closing track, Never Know, is a slow rocker. It’s got lots of guitar solos peppered with a lot of synths bleeps and bloops and it tries to come off as an epic album-closing jam track a la Only In Dreams from Weezer’s The Blue Album. I liked it, but couldn’t help feel the instrumental outro was extended further than it needed to be, and they just kept playing to bloat the song’s length. It gets kind of repetitive.  It’s almost as if they were scared to stop because they didn’t know how to end the song, so the album concludes on a bit of a weak note.

Seven years is a long time, so I’m surprised at how much my high hopes were met while listening to Boomtown. It’s the Ozma sound that fans have come to love, and while the band unfortunately doesn’t try to spread their creative wings as much as they maybe should’ve, the resOzma funult is another solid addition to an already strong discography.

For Boomtown, Ozma had to raise money from fans on pledgemusic.com just to get it made. It’s a sad state of affairs when these modern day trainwreck, auto-tuned, Disney channel pop divas get millions thrown at them to record shitty pop songs, yet a band with a proven track record and skilled musicians has to resort to what some might call “e-begging.” Really though, I don’t care how it got funded, I’m just glad it did because I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Ozma – Boomtown [2014] Final Score:

8outta10smallstars

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