Local Record Review: 'Watch TV' by Josh Ottum

Josh Ottum

Watch TV
Tapete Records

“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
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.

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

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