It can become wearying to describe all-girl bands with the prefix ‘all-girl’. It’s a complicated path to navigate; sometimes it feels like there are as many kinds of feminism as there are females with woke Twitter accounts. Using the prefix ‘all-girl’ should be redundant. Yet, oftentimes it isn’t used without reason. To bring focus to the gender of a band can cause confrontation, celebration, or it can be deemed as an entirely unnecessary exercise. All-boy bands seldom have this descriptive baggage. In the case of The Ophelias, whose album Almost we’re about to discuss, the prefix ‘all-girl’ seems appropriate. It denotes something of the path that the Cincinnati foursome have experienced in becoming an outfit.
The Ophelias songwriter, Spencer Peppet explained the origins, and dynamic of the band: “In the past we had all kind of been the ‘girl in the band,’ in some capacity. Having a band of all women eradicates that possibility logistically, but also makes for a really creative environment without the patronization that often comes along with being the ‘girl in the band.’” In what seems like an easy statement there is a larger revelation. The Ophelias have arrived at a tone which represents the collective voice of the ‘also-ran’; the sidekick, the quiet one in the room. The complexion of this band is not one limited to mere feminism – it is arrived at as the chemistry of alternative voices is combined. And it’s wonderful.
Aside from the melodic beauty relayed in the musical elements of Almost, the strength of this collection lies in it’s nuanced approach to confrontation. Peppet does not shy from awkwardness or debate. She tackles issues with a confidence informed by universal truths. A personal album with opinions, confessions and intimacy, is also a broadly appealing assessment of just how things are. Lyrics guide us toward the recognition of truths; we don’t need to fight we need to recognize and grow. Of course, there’s enough strength and commitment that should it come to a fight, The Ophelias aren’t backing down.
Waves of baroque instrumentation build away from pure pop and into an edgier indie atmosphere. As the sequence progresses through the ten tracks, tones casually undulate between the pretty and the gritty. At times like “General Electric” The Ophelias share their true substance. Peppet sings of being used as the object of someones fantasy. She is at the beck-and-call of a controlling other. “Maybe I’m just selfish” she sings, when detailing a desire to end an established routine. There’s a sense of sarcasm here. A self-knowledge of enjoying being wanted sits with the awareness of being physically and mentally exploited. A feminist issue, perhaps, but also just the state of things for those of us with quiet voices who find quick retorts to arguments long after the arguments are over.
“Lovers Creep” is a good example of the tricks that lead the ear. Opening with a moment of textured peculiarity this track shows the influence of Yoni Wolf who assumes production duties. There are passages of solid sonic authority; samples, strings, heavier beats all bleed together under the oddly haunting, oddly optimistic line “We can hang out when you’re out of the hospital” – which lingers in the air like exhaled smoke. This pleasing cacophony lays the threat of chaos just beneath the surface of all the prettiness. At one turn this is easy listening, at the next there are challenges and trip wires. Wolf has taken the mission statement of The Ophelias to heart, and the result is a sympathetic expression of the whole.
Penultimate track, “Zero”, is an example of The Ophelias angular best. Filled with a kind of mantra; “Focus on the things you want, Focus on the things you want, I know what you really want, I know what you really want, focus on the things you want, focus on the things you want, I know what you really want…” this thing articulates the sense of longing that we’ve all felt at one time or another. The track is also a clear portrait of those quiet people who know more than those who speak louder, and who are more verbose. The Ophelias show that those without voice are not necessarily weak or shy or incapable – oftentimes they’re just shouted over.
There’s a whole bunch of noise going on in gender politics, and the world right now. The Ophelias don’t necessarily make sense of all of it, but with this album they have produced a new kind of camaraderie that goes some way in making things more beautiful. The unification of vision is smart, the delivery is strong, and the sensibility on display shows the very best of what can be achieved by a band. An all-girl band.
HURRY – PREORDER – THE OPHELIAS