After hearing so many art bands buried in their own sense of self-importance, it’s refreshing to bask in the modesty of Athens’ Oh-OK. Like R.E.M. (with whom they share a family tie), this humble group put their elliptical ideas over as much by being good guys as anything else.
Oh-OK was a guitarless trio on the 7-inch Wow, offering four clever and tuneful songs that get their drive from Lynda (sister of Michael) Stipe’s pumping bass and their charm from Linda Hopper’s breathy singing: a delightful mix of Pylon and the female side of the B-52’s.
With a new drummer and guitarist Matthew Sweet joining Hopper and Stipe, Furthermore What (a six-song 12-inch, co-produced by Mitch Easter) has dreamy melodies, oblique lyrics, ringing guitars — it is the New South, after all — and quirky, minimalist arrangements that hover just outside the pop realm. This kind of undersell rarely ascends to greatness, but Oh-OK is a distinctly fresh pleasure.
Following Oh-OK, Sweet formed the Buzz of Delight, a sugary pop duo, with original Oh-OK drummer David Pierce. The six finely wrought tunes on Sound Castles capture the essence of airy Southern power-pop and are ultimately delightful.
Hopper, meanwhile, formed Holiday with Lynn Blakey (also a singer/guitarist/songwriter) and a rhythm section. Recorded in 1985, the 12-inch Hello makes good use of the women’s vocal interplay on five light and sprightly songs that have an appealingly casual sense of accomplishment. (More recently, Hopper has been fronting a new quartet that changed its name from Homemade Sister to Swell.)
Although her name is Lynda L. Limner, the Hetch Hetchy singer with a sometimes harsh loud-soft-loud style is the selfsame Stipe sister. (Michael produced the trio’s six-song debut.) From the lightly laughing clarinet that opens “Retarded Camel” through chunks of darkly deep guitar and lots of smooth new music electronic keyboards, the melodic group — named after a valley in Yosemite National Park — creates the kind of lightly arty pop-rock that college radio eats for breakfast, lunch and dessert.
With production by Hugo Largo’s Tim Sommer, Hetch Hetchy — now a duo of Limner (vocals, bass, guitar and keyboards) and Jay Totty (bass and guitar), assisted by local singers and players — moves into tastefully restrained atmospheric vagueness on Swollen. Some of the songs use drums and a few (“Satanette,” “Retsina,” “Mother’s Drum”) actually have decisive melodies but, for the most part, this is sub-Largo background music in need of a spine.