Little Oil – ‘Twelve Songs’

Bay Area-based project Little Oil present a dynamic, ceaseless creativity on their new album, Twelve Songs. The production succeeds across various fronts, from the harmonious psychedelic pop of “Hey Judas” to the dimly lit barroom setting of “Peace In The Wasteland.” There’s an abundance of quality throughout this compelling album from Little Oil, which is being released by Oakland-based tape label Fountain Inc.

A stellar opener, “Sweet Fruit Jar” exudes a playful, timeless rock quality — lyrically reflecting “taking it all in,” and celebrating life’s more carefree pursuits. A rockabilly bass nostalgia and twangy guitars complement the dynamic vocals, spanning from psychedelic wordlessness to the lead’s debonair charisma. “Hey Judas” follows with a bouncy piano-led pulsation, meshing with acoustic guitar flairs into a flourishing array of plucky guitars and melodic vocal sequences: “dad’s not mad, he’s just disappointed.” A blissful psych-pop vocal harmonizing follows, and the track wholly enamors in its easy-flowing hookiness.

A more contemplative evolution stirs on “Red Moon.” Reminding of Supergrass’ more folk-minded efforts, the production melds eerie acoustics with soaring vocal intensity to start. Darkening strings and foreboding piano touches coalesce gorgeously as the vocals subdue a bit, fervently rising again into the title-touting resonance; the production on this one compels in its eclectic charm, enthralling in both its string-laden moments of sparseness and riveting vocal escalations.

Little Oil show a strong knack for narrative and atmosphere throughout the album, and “Long Ago” is one of the most evident showcases of such. A theatrical range of flickering acoustics traverse into a chilly orchestration, as various vocal layers meld with intrigue. A swampy sound reminds of Tom Waits, particularly as bluesy harmonica likenesses and lyrical references to buzzards further the darkly intoxicating soundscape. It’s a testament to Little Oil’s stylistic diversity that a track like “Long Ago” fits cohesively on the same album as something like “Love Scenes,” which embraces a different spectrum entirely with an effervescent psych-pop perkiness.

A sophisti-pop incorporation is among the many strengths on “Peace In The Wasteland,” also infusing a vocal presence in the ardent vein of Man Man. The lounge-y piano lines exude a mellow, melodic captivation that contrasts brilliantly with the “I created a wasteland!” vocal rasps. “No, no, no…” the vocals let out with a consuming ferocity, with the “shoot my arrow,” culmination soaring brilliantly in its reflective piano work and eerie lyrical celebrations.

From the opener’s psych-pop pursuits, to more left-field narrative successes like “Peace In The Wasteland,” and then concluding with the stomping country-touched folk finale “Fig Leaf Crown,” Twelve Songs is a riveting and eclectic listening experience from Little Oil.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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