Thank god I took Spanish for 12 years of my life, otherwise I may not have known what “el oso” meant. In case you were wondering, it means the bear, but honestly, that information is irrelevant. Milwaukee’s El Oso in no way resembles any characteristics of said animal, musically speaking. If they were really hairy guys, I could see where the bear reference might have come from, but they aren’t, and besides, it’s all unrelated to how superb their latest LP, Whichever Chapter Covers Now, truly is.
The album opens with the semi-epic “Country Radio,” a slow, heavy-eyed track, which gives the first taste of Jim Hanke’s organic and pleasing vocals. What’s truly refreshing in these 11 tracks is that they lack the feeling of El Oso trying too hard. They blend acoustic guitars with light synth faire into seamless melodies, subtracting any of the pretension that often comes along with rock music of the electronically infused variety.
Simple in his lyrics, Hanke’s voice is often folk-like in tendency, while still managing to keep their rock sound rooted. The best song on the album is “Lions,” a stripped-down acoustic piece, devoid of any loops or beats. Hanke’s low wail expels the words “The city made her sour as a skunk / In her yellow locks were ink and blueberry molasses / And she reeked of drunk,” with wary remorse, but this is just the tip of his lyrical capabilities.
Contemporarily speaking, El Oso is a little more like The Dears than The Postal Service, but they adequately serve up equal doses of the indie as well as the electronic. Whichever Chapter Covers Now softly states El Oso’s purpose, without diluting folk or electronic traditions. Effective, sweet, and efficient, El Oso’s debut makes for a wonderful introduction.