That band you saw in some bar? Yeah, they put out albums. Some bar bands are definitely better than others. I remember once I saw this guy Alexis Harte and his band play at Aroma Roaster’s in Santa Rosa, California once (coffee shops count too, right?) and he blew me away. Ended up buying his then-recent album Sunlight Loping, which is a somewhat consistent playlist mainstay. Other bands I’ve ran into are just… it’s something wrong. Like, sometimes I wonder if this is a joke and they aren’t getting an actual cut from the bar. There was a band from my home town that I recall that was just horri-bad. They would play this bar I went to all the time… at the time, it was the only place in town with cask ale, so I was sort of limited on options of available cask releases. This house band would just destroy any passerby’s ideas of walking through the door. Just horrid music.
Hey OK Fantastic has that bar-band vibe. Maybe it’s the mastering and production? They seem to be very active in the live local circuit of Knoxville, Tennessee, citing a hundred or so gigs they’ve locally played. That murky, dark feeling you get from entering a bar and hearing a band fill out the room is definitely how this album starts out for me.
Listen to most of the album below!
The album has this sort of western/folk feel mixed in with a rock twang. They are really consistent with that sound, actually. One thing that sort of reminds me of a bar band is the whole tone of the band. It’s really straight-forward: acoustic guitar with a backing band, the distorted guitar lead every so often, an “in-the-background” vocal arrangement. After the layers start peeling back, you can really tell this is a crew of battle-tested pros. They’ve been together for three years but they sound like they’ve all been playing music together in various forms for the past decade or so. It’s a sort of chemistry that isn’t necessarily picked out of the album as an instrument or a track or a certain part of a song but rather the entire culmination of all the songs together. The real bottom line at this point: this album is just fun.
Many of the songs are nonsensical or silly, based around unreal or unusual stories. They range from childish (“Tale of the Turning Tide”) to weird (“Lookin’ for a Lizard”). Sprinkled throughout are some songs that are lyrically vague but err on the side of serious (“Something New”, “Headin’ South”). In a weird way, the seriousness does flavor the band as something that is a little more complete than just some rip-off of Tenacious D, which you might easily mistake them for. Rather, Hey OK Fantastic is more of a mix between The D and Umphrey’s McGee.
The bar schema isn’t necessarily the thing most bands want to hear they sound like when they get a review written for them. The major driving force there is the production value of the album. The vocals literally sound like they are coming out of a karaoke play-and-sing speaker that is positioned behind all the other amps with all the reverb settings at max. It’s as if someone was screaming lyrics about some dream they had to me from an auditorium, and I’m located in the parking lot. And it’s not like Alex Minard, the vocals and guitar for the group, is a bad singer… he is actually a great singer. Which is why this strikes me so hard… why would you master your album like this? The scene I get throughout the album is me walking into a bar with that band in the corner of the room, crappy PA and a low ceiling, with the vocals muddy from poor leveling, and barely anyone paying attention. The murky mix of the vocals bleeding into the guitar and bass gives that cool effect of the vocals as an instrument, but if the album’s crux is the lyrical content then this does a pretty horrible job at spotlighting the most important part of the album.
Another con would be the context of this band in general. Is it that fun, happy-go-lucky joke-song band or is it something else? Am I missing the point? I don’t feel alone if I am. It doesn’t seem like a concept-y album. It doesn’t seem like their gimmick is one-dimensional either. But to their chagrin, it’s sort of like wearing too many hats. One song is some heart-felt road tripping song… one song is about how you’re pissed off at some lizard… you got that Office Space look for your promo image, but you also have this zoot-suit set up as well in this video. If you could pull it all off really well, I don’t think I would have a problem with it. But as of right now, it’s mediocre. If these guys streamlined an album around a big concept, I bet it’d be amazing.
There’s a lot left on the plate after listening to Hey OK Fantastic’s self-titled album. They do a great job in showing their range but they don’t do a great job in showing what they are great at. If the muddy sound is what they are going for, then they definitely nailed it… but I have a feeling that they want a bigger sound than that. The potential for greatness is a few notches higher than the potential for disaster, as all of the members of this band sound like well-oiled machines. I would only hope that they piece themselves together like a well-built machine.