Ovlov’s Buds is their poppiest record yet. That’s not a dig. This is not Ovlov’s iHeart Radio debut. It’s just a fact. A very telling fact and one of the things that makes Buds great!
Forming in 2009, the band became an indie darling with their loud and fiery debut am upon its debuted in 2013, an album that remains one of the more memorable of the short-lived shoegaze revival of the early ’10s. While am may have secured Ovlov’s status as one of the pivotal players of that era, their success never managed to translate into a stable lineup (or existence, generally).
Ovlov broke up and reformed several times between am and their second LP Tru, each time insisting that it was “for realsies” this time, only to pop back a few months later to play a show at Shea Stadium or something chic East Coast hall. The long-term turbulence experienced by the band eventually led to their personnel roster being widdled down significantly with singer Steve Hartlett emerging as the sole de facto leader. The wild concourse of the band’s recent history is what has allowed Steve the freedom to truly begin to find his voice through the vessel of the band.
I said that Buds is Ovlov’s poppiest record, but it is also their most focused sounding. 2018’s Tru felt like the band was still nursing a bit of heatstroke after emerging from the intense heat and debilitating burn of am‘s fuzz oven. Tru is a fine album, but you can hear the band stumbling a bit, attempting to find a way forward- debating with themselves whether they want to be just another loud and quakey punk band, or something else entirely. Buds feels like a true pivot and a new direction for Ovlov, and one that seems to suit them well.
For starters, Ovlov rely less on feedback and distortion on Buds, polishing up their guitar tones and allowing the hooks, licks, and leisurely melodies to come to the fore, rather than stuffing them back and hiding them in a haze of hot guitar noise. There is still plenty of distortion, but this aspect of their sound is more there for flavor and texture now and isn’t used to support the structure of the songs the same way that they used to.
The transition between Tru and Buds feels reminiscent of the evolution Evan Dando percolated through with The Lemonheads. Taking the group from a generally hooky and melodic kind of hardcore to a genuine pop sensation with It’s a Shame About Ray, and reaching his final form with the sweetly sentimental Come on Feel The Lemons. The embrace of a more confident chorus-verse-chorus-bridge structure compliments the brisk hooks and reassuring warmth that Ovlov has always secretly reached for, and it’s very satisfying to see Steve and the band reach such a happy, stable place on Buds.