Rare is the album that stuns fron the first note of the opening song to the waning seconds of the finale. Rarer still is a concept album that achieves this feat. And yet, here we are with “Through The Deep, Dark Valley,” the full-length debut from the Oh Hello’s. Hailing from Texas, the Oh Hello’s are siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath, and cite Los Campesinos, Sufjan Stevens, The Lumineers, The Middle East and Mumford and Sons among their many influences. Though that last name may cause an averse reaction to some, it shouldn’t. Mumford and Sons arrangements, though often raucous and rambunctious, frequently have a cookie cutter feel (not to mention their exhaustive use of the word “heart” in several of those dynamic bridges and choruses). The yelling, the harmonies, the crescendos are far too predictable and sound almost fake, or at the very least, unimaginative. A little more “Fauxk” than folk. “Through The Deep, Dark Valley” is better and more sophisticated musically and lyrically than anything produced by Mumford and Sons.
The album opens with “The Valley,” a drum-thumping, guitar-strumming overture that sets the tone for the rest of the album. It informs the listener that there will be strings aplenty, there will be swooping crescendos and decrescendos, there will be soaring highs and cavernous lows, and gorgeous harmonies. Really, enough can not be said about the harmonizing of the Heaths. Perhaps it’s born from a natural, sibling chemistry, or the more common, if not more boring, product of years of practicing together (likely a combination of the two). What ever the cause, their voices blend with and complement each other flawlessly. From there, we are taken to “Like the Dawn,” which carries on the musical promise of the opener, though not as immediately “in your face” instrumentally.
“Eat You Alive” is the first song in which Tyler Heath takes charge on lead vocals. Some have hailed it as the best song on the album, if not one of the best songs of the year. It’s short, clocking in at 1:37, but powerful nonetheless. “The Ballad of Eustace Scrubb,” another song featuring Tyler on the lead, harkens back to traditional Irish folk music, while “I Have Made Mistakes” is one of the more minimal tracks on the album, in terms of instrumentation.
There is no weak song on the album, not even a song that can be classified as merely OK. They are all at least very good, some great. Still, there is one song that stands above the others, the epitome of what makes this album special: “Wishing Well.” It starts off as a simple fingerpicking pattern on two guitars, with a banjo joining shortly after. Maggie’s voice feathers in at around the twenty second mark, and the song builds from there, adding layers of strings and voices that coalesce in the final thirty seconds into a mesmerizing exercise in the idyllic.
Listen to this album. It’s one of the most original releases of 2012, and well worth whatever price you want to pay for it. The band suggests listening to the albumin order, in one sitting to get the full effect, but one listen to any of the eleven songs will be enough to hook you on this extraordinary effort.