Are We Here?, the debut album by Las Vegas-based O’s (formerly O’s of Presidential) is a sonic assault in the best possible way. Led by guitarist and John Lennon sound-alike Evan Donoghue, with Brian Gathy on bass, Zack Beach on drums, and Joe Lawless on guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals, O’s bounce back and forth between face-melting rock and blissed-out psychedelia, often several times in the same song.
Take “Mirroring Your Stare,” the ninth track on the album. It begins with the familiar musical trappings of a ’60s band discovering Eastern music: tabla drums, tambourines, sitars, and chanted vocals. About a minute in, though, there’s a blast of electric guitar, and soon double-tracked Donoghues are snarling, “I can and I want to be all up inside you.” The vocals drop out, and the song returns to its meditative state — and then gradually builds again, with more and more keyboard layers, just in time for a final fade-out. The record is co-produced by Lawless and John Fallon of the Steppes, and the two Laissez Fairs bandmates revel in studio experimentation, drenching vocals with reverb and piling on effects. It never feels overdone, though — instead, the effect as fun and joyful as audio fingerpainting.
“Alright” is a suitably brash and upbeat opener, with sneering vocals over slamming drums and guitars. It’s followed by the spacey “Better Know Better,” whose guitar and synth interplay is a stereo treat, and the crunchy power-pop anthem “All Are Welcome.”
As the album progresses, the band’s influences become as clear lyrically as they are musically. It’s the kids who are all right in “Alright,” the narrator of “Under the Gun” can see for miles and miles (and miles and miles), and the girl in “Mark Twang Twung” is “like a rolling stone.” “Rollin’,” a song that’s the very definition of Beatlesque, name checks Mr. Heath and Mr. Wilson of “Taxman” and the kaleidoscope eyes of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Donoghue delivers these lyrical nods with the same sneering attitude that permeates the rest of his words — he’s the kind of singer who can even make a line like, “Gonna lick every lick of the lollipop” sound legitimately badass, and when his vocals veer off pitch, it only adds to the effect. The arrangements and production, not the lyrics or vocals, are the stars here, and the album benefits from repeated listens on good headphones.
Are We Here? concludes with “Bedtime Outro,” a song that might have been a lullaby in the hands of another band, but O’s layer echoing vocals and electric guitar over the simple base of strummed acoustic guitar and harmonica. The final lyrics — “No better time than now, no better place than here to put it all to bed” — seem especially appropriate in the light of the fact that O’s have been on indefinite hiatus since the release of the album. Here’s hoping they’ll reunite to bring us along on another sonic journey soon.