Music Reviews

Ovlov Buds

(Exploding in Sound Records) Rating - 9/10

Bands like Ovlov always seem destined to remain underdogs. The Newtown, Connecticut band, consisting of brothers Steve, Theo, and Jon Hartlett as well as guitarist Morgan Luzzi, seem to secure this fate for two reasons: they wear their influence unabashedly on their sleeve, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. These two factors are apparent before you even hear a single note of their music. Their Instagram bio bills them as “Rehashed Rock and Roll from Newtown, CT,” and scanning the tracklist of either of their three albums and singles compilations reveals titles—such as Where’s My Dini? and Moron, Pt. 2—which exude the kind of silliness found in high school bands ripping off Blink-182. Their latest album, Buds, leans even further into this schtick; the album's final track, Feel The Pain, is the kind of self-mockery where the tongue is so far in cheek it’s nearly a choking hazard. All of this makes Ovlov (backward for Swedish car company Volvo) all too easy to underestimate, which, intentional or not, may just make the experience of finally pressing play even more thrilling.

Despite getting out their humorous side in song titles and social media, Ovlov nonetheless funnel all their passion and expertise into their exhilarating sound. It’s a sound that’s nonetheless highly indebted to its influences—shoegaze, fuzz rock, basically any genre you’d associate with Fender Jazzmasters and tube amps—but while the band themselves may poke fun at this blatant worship of noisy 90’s rock, even their self-ribbing does injustice to the fact that they consistently make perfect guitar-driven pop. Throw a dart at any track in their discography and you’re guaranteed to hit a song that not only rivals their influences, but in some cases, puts them to shame in how meticulous, concise, and catchy they can be. This has been the through line since Ovlov’s earliest releases, and with Buds, the band has completed a near-perfect trilogy of albums while not having to do much to shake up their sound.

That isn’t to say that Buds doesn’t display growth. It’s true that, save for a peculiar yet wonderful sax solo capping Cheer Up, Chihiro (supplied by none other than papa Hartlett himself!), there isn’t much here that would sound out of place on either Am or Tru. But while Buds resides largely in the same sonic playground, it demonstrates patience in restraint regarding the bands roaring, sludged-up guitars and sprawling solos. That’s not to say that Ovlov never go for the throat, as attack-mode opener Baby Shea proves. These louder, more thrilling elements are abundant on Buds, but here the band is more willing than ever to dial back the noise to give their undeniable hooks and tender emotions more of the spotlight than ever. 

This sounds like a compromise on paper, and if Ovlov weren’t secretly such great songwriters, I’d be inclined to agree. But with the shimmering jangle-pop of Eat More, the punchy, sugar-rush hooks of Land of Steve-O and Strokes, and tender swells of The Wishing Well, the secret is out. Buds may be the band’s shortest album, but no other album demonstrates Ovlov’s versatility as songwriters despite incorporating virtually all of the same components throughout—which, yes, includes tons of fuzzy feedback and solos on nearly every track. Ovlov may have won the hearts of guitar-obsessed indie-rockers with a sound some elitists may scoff at as “derivative,” but with Buds, Ovlov prove once again, and perhaps more effectively than ever, that the alchemy of passion and songcraft is undeniable no matter where your devotion resides.