Genre: Rock, Baroque Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Piano Punk,” “Weird,” “Lolabye,” “Fix,” “Lonely Lowkey Fuckboy,” “How Does it Feel Sunshine”
When I first met Eddie he didn’t speak much. Really at all. He was unassuming and it wasn’t easy to pry out that he was a musician, or even that he had just released a debut album. It was actually kind of nice, not feeling pressured into listening to one of your friends’ music and worrying that you might have to tell them you like it. But his self-effacing nature actually intrigued me more than a shameless music plug would. When I got around to listening to said album, PIANO PUNK, it all clicked. Like some of the best artists—musicians, writers, filmmakers—they let their work do all the talking. It’s no different for Eddie O.: he lets it do the talking, yelling, sulking, joking, and really everything under the emotional sun.
The album kicks off with the titular “Piano Punk,” in rollicking Jeff Rosenstock fashion. Over a bar-ready piano, O’Brien yells out, “…open the curtains and start the show! Not just about love and punching holes in the wall…” So this is where all the expression is, his voice, a bacchanalian wail, that even when calm sounds teetering on a crack-up, and his piano that so faithfully mirrors it. On the chorus, he laments, “I’m a complete unknown, shit / I’m a rolling stone… I am the piano punk!” You can imagine my surprise, witnessing such gusto. Immediately following is the down-tempo “Greater Boston,” whose dreary, rainy day vibes seem more in line with the Eddie I met. It’s hard to even make out what he’s muttering, but it makes for a nice companion to any of those days where you really don’t feel like getting out of bed. O’Brien really shines though when he’s hopping about, letting go of the reins, and he gets right back to it on “Weird.” He dabbles in some voice effect that accentuates his stoned, sad-sack bravado even more, rueing, “When the girl walked / away from me shameless / I responded that I’d be famous / Why did I say I’d be famous / Gee, that’s really dumb.”
Often the heartbroken schlemiel-type characters inhabiting these narratives are always under some type of influence—the album art wouldn’t exactly betray this either— and that some judgement-altering vice was the source of their problem(s), or the coping mechanism to them, or both. Mid-album corker “Fix” points to exactly this as the narrator advises to “find yourself a fix” because everybody and everything else is a drag (and an unreliable one at that). His point is made clearer when he adeptly interpolates the sidling melody of Sublime’s “Garden Grove.” It’s awesome to hear the nod to a more irreverent artist on an album that seems mostly informed by guys like Jim Morrison and Billy Joel. By the end, O’Brien descends into crazed gibberish, his loyal piano going off the rails right behind him, just one of several moments evocative of Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart; Woozy comedown “How Does it Feel Sunshine” is another example as he synergizes his scuzzy keening with an equally scuzzy clavichord, guitar, and drum beat.
“Fix” perhaps being the best showcase for it, O’Brien’s voice proves to be one of his handiest tools. Sometimes it seems like it’s totally autonomous, and to see him try to tame it or indulge it in various ways is a blast. Earlier, on “Lolabye,” the piano squiggles with lysergic melancholy as O’Brien, using that same fuzzy voice effect again to success, pokes fun at himself and the saturated genre (and his place in it): “There’s too many love songs and I keep saying the words wrong.” For any lyrical cliche that arises, O’Brien will duly subvert it with real ingenuity: “…staring through a window, a New York city street / ‘cuz that girl who broke my heart, she’s laughing in her sleep.”
Largely contributing to the overall enjoyment of the album is this quality of surprise. With every self-deprecating turn, O’Brien’s there to provide laughter too. He proudly proclaims, “I’m a fuckboy, making real noise!” on “Lonely Lowkey Fuckboy,” and I’ll be damned if I wasn’t singing along by the second round of the chorus. Later he hilariously admits, “I don’t know how to express my intentions galore!” It’s a ballad veritably fit for that jukebox slot before closing time.
The project could use some paring down in its final moments. “Paper Mushrooms” and the grating “Theater Girl” feel padded on, and while 1919 shows some beat-making chops, it’s ultimately a distraction; perhaps a good four-song trim would’ve really strengthened this thing. But the ingredients for a great debut are all here. Plus the overall production and mixing is pretty clean and helps with the swallowing down of any duller tracks.
Eddie O.’s a young guy at the spry age of 20, just struggling to get through the daily trials of adolescence, and while he sometimes comes off as the fool who’s getting kicked out of the party for yelling obscenities, he’s always smiling and we’re smiling with him. He’s too good at what he does (he recorded all the instruments, too) and too self-aware for us to pity him. There’s palpable heart on display here and we’re rooting for the Piano Punk, hoping he sends his woes up the river and keeps his chin high. After all, we need a follow-up to such a promising introduction.