OK Go is band that changes with every album. For the last decade they’ve been known primarily for their unique, one-take videos, but their music is also pushing boundaries. On their last album, 2010’s Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, OK Go moved away from the raw sound of Oh No and went instead for a glossy, at times dancey sound. It was a big departure, but one that worked well for the band.
If you enjoyed OK Go’s last album, you’ll love Hungry Ghosts. It has the same polish, but with more expansion in both directions: More frenzied glitches and bleeps, and more lush, sweet harmonies. This album has a bit more of an ’80s influences, and walks a line between personal, touching narratives and loud dance party grooves.
Hungry Ghosts opens with “Upside Down & Inside Out,” a wild song that ping pongs between soft, floating verses and battering jackhammer choruses. The song opens with a shooting blip sound like you’d hear at an arcade, and launches immediately into the manic chorus. It’s an attack of sounds – singer Damian Kulash shouts “it’s like a freight train!” in the chorus, and that seems like a good description for what the chorus accomplishes. If a train of melodic sounds could crash into you, this is what it would sound like. But “Upside Down & Inside Out” suddenly veers into calmer territory, a lilting peaceful hum as Damian croons “so when you met the new you, did someone die inside?” Overall, it’s a fairly bipolar song, and a highlight on the album.
Following is “The Writing’s On The Wall,” which was released as the first single back in May. (Its viral video was released in June.) This song has a thought provoking atmosphere to it. The music sounds nostalgic yet pleasant all at once – the feeling of hope one has when everything is falling apart. Damian sings “it seems like forever since we had a good day,” and he wants to fix that: “I just want to get you high tonight, even if it’s the last thing that we do together.” Although the relationship may be coming to a close, they can at least look back on good memories and enjoy their last moments together.
“Another Set Of Issues” is next. The music is low and bassy, contrasting with Damian’s falsetto vocals. The chilled out tune is simple, allowing the lyrics to take center stage. At first “it all seemed so perfect, it seemed like everything was right.” But then it’s clear that his character wants to leave him, but he “won’t let you leave that way.” This is a song that gets better with each listen.
After the collected cool of that, the record picks up again with “Turn Up The Radio.” It starts with an infectious, upbeat chorus, before going into its pulsing, calmer verses. Damian points out that “something must be wrong if everything is right,” and to solve this problem, he wants to “let it all go tonight.” He sings “I want it loud as hell, I want the walls to melt” – and this is precisely what the song makes the listener want too. The title is fitting, because when you hear “Turn Up The Radio,” you’ll want to do exactly that.
“Obsession” has a dark, cool, low sound. It could be compared to Arctic Monkeys’ last album in that way, but OK Go adds in their own wild flair. The lyrics are eerie: “It’s physical, it’s like standing at the edge, your blood starts to pump, cause you worried you might jump,” and then “your head throbbing like a heart, and your heart throbbing like drum.” The song maintains its minimalistic front, suspending the listener so you feel that rising urge to jump too.
Next is “I’m Not Through.” OK Go originally released this as a standalone single in early 2013. It has a calm, almost R&B style to it, but it’s interrupted by unexpected elements: Arcade blips, tinkling symbols, lush strings. A breakdown comes towards the end, starting off with street-like percussion, before a guitar and those sophisticated strings come in. “I’m Not Through” is sensual and insistent, appearing calm despite the bits of energy trying to burst through after each line.
“Bright As Your Eyes” starts low and buzzy, with low vocals, and only a ringing bell to offset that. But the chorus is what offers unexpected charm: Cheery, sweet strings sweep in, creating a melody sugary enough for a Disney princess movie. The lyrics are equally sweet and loving: Damian compares his girl to the moonlight, stars, planets, sunlight, heaven, and lightening, declaring that her eyes can outshine all of them. If that doesn’t make a girl swoon, nothing will. “Bright As Your Eyes” is another highlight from Hungry Ghosts, and possibly the happiest song on the record.
“I Won’t Let You Down” has groove and disco sense that can’t be beat. With its upbeat tempo, handclaps, synths, and graceful strings, this could have come right out of the ’70s. Suggesting “maybe all you need is someone to trust,” Damian promises – repeatedly – that he won’t let her down. It’s repetitive, but that just reinforces the joy and fun of the song. The yelping vocals at the end lend sincerity in spite of the grooving dance mood. The song will cheer up the grumpiest soul, and will enliven any party it’s played at.
Things come down a bit for the next song. “The One Moment” is a bit more raw, with a strumming guitar that could have been on the band’s second album. But the song quickly grows into something anthemic. It sounds victorious, like one has finally overcome a difficult trial, reached the end and won. He wants to “build us a temple, build us a castle, build us a monument, and burn them all right down.” This song gets better with every listen, and ends up being a memorable highlight on Hungry Ghosts.
“If I Had A Mountain” has a swooshing, jumprope sound to keep tempo, as high vocals and floating chorus come in on top. Damian uses metaphors of mountains and rivers to describe what he would do for his girl. We learn that “everything that I am is just pieces of you,” and that without her he’d fall apart.
“The Great Fire” is creepy and dark, like the aftermath of an evil event. It has static buzzing, a melting cascade of vocals in the chorus, unnervingly sweet harp sounds. It’s calm, but with plenty going on in the background. They set the tone with “so much there was to lose, so much got lost.” But then Damian asks “when the flames die down, everything is gone, will there be fire under the ashes?” Everything is destroyed and burnt, but could there be more destruction waiting?
Hungry Ghosts ends with “Lullabye.” It’s just a guitar and a choir of gentle vocals, as he soothes with pleas to “just go to sleep, my love / just close your eyes, my love.” Instead, “dream that I’m there by your side tonight, dream that I’m there and we’ll be alright.” He’s far away from his love, 1000 miles apart, and she can’t sleep without him there. But this isn’t a simple long distance lullaby: It’s also a goodbye – a lullabye. He fades away, with his calming choir of voices echoing to the end.
If you loved Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky, then Hungry Ghosts should be right up your alley. The songs aren’t as expansive and larger-than-life as in the previous record – instead, they are tighter, and wound with more energetic detail than before. This makes every fresh listen a new experience, in which you uncover more layers in each song. Hungry Ghosts is an incredible album that will be enjoyed for many repeated listens.
You can buy Hungry Ghosts on iTunes now.