"College rock" as an operating phrase died some time back but sometimes the sentiment can be accurate, in that Josh Ottum is currently going to grad school at UC Irvine. But the Seattle transplant has been doing music for longer, while his latest album Watch TV does have something of the not-quite-the-sixties/not-quite-punk-rock feeling of 80s alternative as such. Still, it's very much a here-and-now release in the end, the kind of carefully constructed and written pop/rock that would seem happily at home on KCRW and NPR in general. From the start, "Goin' Gone" shows that Ottum is if nothing else a Brian Wilson devotee, with the swooning harmonies and sweetly breezy feeling of mid- to late-'60s Beach Boys in full effect, and afterechoes can be heard throughout the album. "Not Built for Two"'s keyboards are an homage to early eighties pop songwriting as much as the massed vocal breaks are a nod to "Cabinessence," while "Feel Real Bright" strips it all down to drum machine beats and acoustic guitar at the start but by the end is a mini-orchestral number, tubular bells and choir synths and more fleshing it all out.
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Ottum also has an ear for changing things up midsong, an understated twist of expectations. The initially quieter "Fool in the Night" tenses up with a quietly ominous piano part followed later with feedback and heavier drumming galore. "Green in the Sun" stands out as well for its slightly stark, reserved verses that the swooning chorus doesn't quite offset, creating a feeling of unease in something as simple as how Ottum calmly sings and how the drums and bass define that part of the song more than the guitar. It's all an easygoing listen in the end, and sometimes there's always just enough room for the pleasant. Josh Ottum - Watch TV (album snippets) by Tapete Records