If you listen to The Only Human’s newest album “Oh God!: or The Unfortunate Lens of Happiness”, you’ll find its blistering honesty, lyrical cleverness, and both harmonic and melodic depth.
If you haven’t listened, be prepared to find the closest thing to a definition for the above terms from a local band.
Produced by Elio DeLuca—of Titus Andronicus and Hallelujah The Hills fame—at his all-analog studio The Soul Shop in Medford, Massachusetts, “Oh God!” brings searing lyrical composition and a warm-but-driving acoustic sound together in a truly novel and complete effort.
Tim Howd’s vocals throughout form an at-once unashamedly visceral tonal identity to his songs. From the shrill belting found on the album’s title track and opener, “Oh God!”, to the tender closing track “Winter Humidity Love Song”, Howd takes the tiniest hint of Colin Meloy of the Decemberists and, surprisingly, makes it completely his own.
This album is largely driven by acoustic guitars and violins. Violinists Neil Morrissey and Renée Gauthier weave memorable and novel hooks throughout the bare-bones simplicity of Howd’s folk song structures. At times, such as on the track “Two Weeks Before the Hurricane”, they become another vocalist, characteristic of the lyrical style of Gauthier’s and Morrissey’s playing.
Drummer Moises Diaz’s rhythms and tonal choices fit like a silk glove on this largely folk-pop album. The testament to Diaz’s skill and creativity is how the percussion perfectly compliments and leads the songs on—more like an old friend leading you through a journey by hand than like a truck towing a Tonka.
Yet, the hauntingly deep, reflective, and intimate imagery of Howd’s lyrics are what make “Oh God!” a truly singular album. Reading like true poetry scribbled on a rain-soaked and unrequited love letter, Howd is able to guide the listener through stories with an immediacy akin to weathering a drunken friend’s wallowing of self pity in a dusty townie bar. One of the stand-out phrases, from the track “Ally, A Year After We Met”, is as follows:
“Your brand new vinyl records
Were scattered all across the floor/
And I felt something change forever,
When I kicked my shoes off by the door.”
This is an example of Howd’s true talent—anchoring an entire world of emotional impact onto a simple rhyme and even simpler gestures. Throughout the album, his lyrics pull your heart into a startingly convincing emotional story. Whether or not the stories are true, your own ego and search for personal meaning in the words will take a step aside to the impact of the album’s literary narratives.
Perhaps most interesting about this album is the kind of arc our humble narrator travels along. “Oh God!” begins with the raw power of a singer who has waited their whole life to deliver their words—taking in a full breath and pushing with all their might. By the end, the narrator has exhausted not only their message, but the very air in their lungs. “Oh God!’s” final lyrics almost drift like smoke out of Howd’s mouth, beaten and defeated by his own story, as he sings:
“And you still had your work clothes on.
Yeah, you were the rock that my
Heart would break upon.”