By Alessandro Improta
OKKAH is a band of mystery. Since the release of Islands, they have been locked away recording a new EP, and emerge only occasionally to grace us with a live performance. Their music is especially mysterious. It is absolutely impossible to label. Sitting comfortably somewhere between synth rock and traditional East Asian music, OKKAH is unlike anything out of Provo. Truthfully, they are unlike anything I have ever heard. I’ve listened to this EP easily 25 times, and I still don’t know what to make of it. I do know that I have enjoyed it pretty much every single time. There is a lot of complexity to their music, and every time I have listened to the EP something else stands out to me that I didn’t really appreciate previously.
To really understand what OKKAH is about, you just have to listen to them. This EP does a great job of showing you the many sides of OKKAH. On one extreme you have a song like “Pickpocketer,” whose electronic drums, affected toms, and synth sounds make it sound like a modern take on an 80’s song. It really reminds me of Walk The Moon’s “Aquaman,” though it is more upbeat. This is by far the danciest song on the album and goes away from their more anthemic style. However, in classic OKKAH fashion, there is a moment that just makes you wonder, “What was that?” Right at 2:02 the song simplifies to welcome in what I would classify as a bridge. That’s a normal thing for a band to do, but what I think will throw most people for a loop is the filtered opera style singer that is quietly highlighted for ten seconds. It sounds great, and is a different texture than what has been heard so far in the song, so your ear will welcome it. But your brain won’t be able to help asking where in the world it came from. It’s a wonderfully eclectic touch.
On the other extreme stands “Buddha Boy Speaks Stranger” – and it stands up proudly. This song is absolutely fantastic. One of my favorite tracks I have heard come out of Provo, to be honest. Other songs on the EP, though great, tend to peak early and can get a little stale by the end. This is because the end of those songs are often the same as the first chorus. “Buddha Boy Speaks Stranger” does a great job of avoiding this issue. This song is constantly building for 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The build is patient – slowly adding new elements to make the song bigger, and build more tension. By the time the backup vocals – or rather backup chants – come in at 2:42, it takes the song completely over the top and soars above anything else this EP has shown so far. These chants are not overdone, and at 3:20, everything suddenly (and brilliantly) cuts out and we are back to the original instrumentation from the beginning of the song. To top it all off, the entire song is in ⅞ time, making it feel like there is a beat missing every two measures. It’s like the phrases aren’t quite ending. This causes a natural desire to hear that last beat and keeps the listener intrigued throughout the entirety of the song. “Buddha Boy Speaks Stranger” is, quite simply, an example of genius songwriting.
“A Man Who Fell in Love With an Island” is another stand out track. A sparse opener, it works well dynamically as it slowly builds, adding synth drones and percussive elements as it ticks along before an incredibly satisfying chorus. It’s so relaxing and majestic – like an upbeat Enya track with anthemic tribal chants. Producer Caleb Loveless did a wonderful job at blending sounds and juggling the number of layers that go into the songs on “Island.”
Our only criticism: those who have read many of our reviews know that we place a lot of emphasis on lyrical content. I have listened to this EP a lot, and I honestly know maybe a handful of lines from the entire thing. That’s not to say the lyrics are poorly written – they are full of brilliant imagery and that same feeling of magical mystery that the music evokes. Take a look at the beginning of “A Man Who Fell in Love With an Island:”
“Stillness came when I saw you right before the dawn. I will not leave you alone with the rising sun. Oh, don’t be afraid of the great beginning, where the sea has become the sky. Feel my body rise. I have waited on an island, in between the living and the dead.”
The lyrics add a wonderful layer of narrative imagery to the epic soundscapes they’ve composed. Unfortunately, the music is so overwhelming that it is hard to focus on anything else. The vocals just feel like another instrument with words only serving the purpose of providing different tones. That’s not a bad thing, as the layers work incredibly well together, and the tracks don’t need to rely on explicit communication to convey emotion.
I am beyond excited for their new release this year. With the experience of their first release, I can’t help but feel that the few kinks found here – and they are very, very few – will be smoothed out and that OKKAH will provide us with even better music than they already have. With Islands, OKKAH has proven themselves a band worthy of Provo’s attention. I am sure that their timeless, otherworldly orchestration will win them the hearts of listeners beyond city limits and beyond state lines. OKKAH’s music is without borders, and their music will move hearts wherever hearts are found.