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Record review: Oulipo's Kisses to the Sky

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It took four years for Raleigh's Oulipo to arrive at last with its first full-length release, the new Kisses to the Sky. The wait proves worthwhile, as it's allowed the group to define itself and focus its once-amorphous abstraction for these eight numbers.

Early Oulipo EPs—2011's That Is What I Said (And I Dove Into The Water) and 2012's Primitive Ways—focused on sound more than song. A bit like a looser version of Animal Collective or The Dodos, they shoehorned acute chorus lines above skittering and repeating beats, working with rhythms and layers to build impressive textures. Yes, they occasionally mixed in a danceable beat, but those early numbers most often felt like laboratory experiments. The brains roamed in search of a heart.

Kisses to the Sky remedies this with a love of '80s soul and pop. Opener "Nite Legs" pulses with synthesizers and a groove that's thick but agile, the bass pounding deep beneath it all. Singer Ryan Trauley stretches his lines and digs in at the end of his phrases, delivering maybe the most substantial melody in Oulipo's catalogue. Only half a song into Kisses to the Sky, you wonder if this is a new band entirely.

But then Oulipo gets wild again: Two-thirds of the way through "Nite Legs," a curiously backward falsetto loop routes the listener immediately into a second chorus, skipping the second verse altogether.

This interplay between Oulipo's experimental tastes and approachable appreciation powers Kisses to the Sky. Between the choruses of "Blue Flames," where an industrial beat comes smeared with guitar reverb, Oulipo spiral into madness again. Rhythms switch and shift, phasing in and out and building tension ahead of the next outburst. "Dolphins" layers cascading electronics and persistent guitar, the band lingering patiently as Trauley does his best Springsteen. But the teased climax never comes, the song fading through a guitar solo that ascends melodramatically into one bent note.

During closer "Kisses to the Sky," Oulipo fully embrace joy and accessibility. Saxophone wails and finger snaps embellish dramatic vocals, echoing through a cavernous space. It feels like a giant exhalation.

Like the album itself, the song is the sound of a band finding confidence by finding definition and—as evidenced by the sincere shouts of a silly line like "kisses to the sky"—indulging pleasure, guilt-free.

Label: DiggUp Tapes

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