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Um, Uh Oh

  Say Hi  
  Barsuk Records  
Release Date:
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Every year or two, it seems like Seattle's Say Hi (the recording alter-ego of one man, Eric Elbogen) reappears with a new album. With inevitably catchy lyrics and music, it's true that some of these releases are more memorable than others; however, as a whole, the records have a certain consistency of form and function. As a reviewer, this can be a nice thing. Ultimately, when you pick up a new Say Hi album, you know broadly what you're going to get and don't have to worry about the sound changing so very much that you're not sure if you're listening to the same group, so to speak.

This isn't to say that Um, Uh Oh, the most recent Say Hi album (and Elbogen's second release on Barsuk records) is indistinguishable from earlier offerings. It still has the vaguely melancholy guitar strumming and the slightly mournful voice of Elbogen backed with minimalist, light drumming and tinkling keyboard accents. However, this new record isn't as insular as 2009's Oohs & Aahs nor is it as completely poppy as 2006's Impeccable Blahs. Rather, within the confines of Say Hi's basic structure, Um, Uh Oh has a bluesy undertone and a musical forcefulness that hasn't been heard in Elbogen's previous, occasionally meandering recordings.

As an example, the album opens with Dots on Maps. This tune has the characteristic rhythmic guitar strumming of Say Hi, which is emphasized by a slow flute-like keyboard tune. As Elbogen begins to sing in his typical husky growl, the song picks up speed and continues to bounce along to a toe-tapping upbeat conclusion. In contrast, the second song, Devils, features tons of echo along with a thumping bassline and some maracas that are highlighted by a repetitive bluesy vocal line, which makes it sound almost like a stripped down tune by The Faceless Werewolves or the like. The features of both these tunes combine in a fairly expansive way in All the Pretty Ones, which manages to combine the bluesy echo with of the second song with the speedy bounce of the first one.

Outside of the 1-2-3 punch of the first three songs, there are musical highlights throughout the album. Take Ya Dancing' has the lithe smoothness of some of the poppier songs off of Impeccable Blahs, albeit without the trebly keys or handclaps. Likewise Sister Needs to Settle combines a 60s Texas rock feel (think Bobby Fuller's Let Her Dance, and you're getting to the right place) with the typical Say Hi minor key arpeggios and an occasional organ note or two. In contrast, Shiny Diamonds has a dark vaguely 70s sound, with the beat held together by a true organ-y synth line with the syncopated half-shouted, almost mannered vocals in the forefront.

Handsome Babies is another standout tune, with the way its offbeat guitar arpeggios mimic the vocal line. Then, all of the instruments some together while the cymbal crashes become more prominent as the songs builds towards an almost loud conclusion. Finally, the record's concluding track, Bruises to Prove It features Elbogen's soaring voice over an echoed organ that alternates with a slight keyboard tinkle and a quickly strummed vaguely acoustic guitar. In some ways, this song is nothing different than what has come before, but there is a happy hopefulness pervading the tune that suggests an optimistic viewpoint which is occasionally missing from Say Hi's music.

When a "band" really consists of a single individual, there's always the danger that an album will become so self-referential and claustrophobic that the listener can't connect. Likewise, there's also the potential that the music will go down a metaphorical rabbit hole that leads to visions of an individual in a dark basement, laying down track after track without consideration or moderation. Thankfully, neither is the case with Say Hi in general or Um, Uh Oh in particular. Rather, Elbogen continues within his well-defined basic musical form, but continues to expand his execution. In the end, Um, Uh Oh has a different tone and accent than other Say Hi releases. Nevertheless, the extension opens up and enhances the music, leading to fuller, more well rounded sound.

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   Also on EvilSponge:
         Concert: Sat.24.Mar.07
         Concert: Sat.28.Oct.07
         Album: The Wishes and the Glitch
         Concert: Fri.07.Mar.08
         Concert: Wed.8.Oct.08
         Album: Oohs and Aahs


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