London four-piece O Children released their debut record back in 2010. The ensuing months after the record’s release proved to be tumultuous ride for Nigerian-born frontman Tobi O’Kandi. Picked up on a late night train for not having a ticket, events escalated to the point that he was to be extradited back to a country he had not been to since he was six. The stress from the court battles resulted in O’Kandi suffering from apnea, a suspension of breathing during sleep. Instead of getting some shut-eye, he started writing a new record.
O’Kandi’s deep baritone presence will of course draw comparisons to The National’s Matt Berninger, Mark Lanegan or Nick Cave. But on opener Holy Wood the piling tom-toms and sinister synths suggest Depeche Mode are as much an influence as any of the above.
Now I’m not saying it’s O’Kandi’s fault his voice is pitched in the same range as these unique artists, but the instrumentation does nothing to try and distant the group from any such queue of willing accusers. O Children just don’t have a sound of their own. The Realest tries (and fails) to inject the sort of intensity that Nick Cave can muster in his sleep, let alone the studio. The production only hinders things; it’s like Chris Martin is tweaking the desk to ensure we have a stadium-ready product.
With synths and guitars often cascading side by side with a poetic grace there are moments that swoon, and these feel a lot more successful than the far too controlled lightweight rock-outs. I Know (You Love Me) is one such example, where real emotion eclipses the slew of comparisons and clichéd guitar riffs.
The truth is O Children don’t have enough unique selling points to tackle the underlying issue of an overly derivative sound. You will undoubtedly be digging out The National back catalogue for another spin after listening to this – so maybe it’s not all bad.