by Evan Jarvicks
With its thoughtful approach to sonic texture and vocal harmony, the new debut EP from Oklahoma City five-piece The So Help Me’s is a stellar start to a new year in local music. Although The Relativity EP runs a mere four tracks, it refuses to sell itself short on ideas and ambition.
Kicking off with a soft bed of clean, blossoming electric guitar, opening track “Blue Fox Drive” doesn’t show its cards up front. Rather, it sinks into a bright, familiar alternative rock haze for a solid minute before jumping into one of its multiple progressions. To detail every shift in structure would be to spoil the song for first-time listeners, but the final refrain is worth highlighting. Most trailing refrains in contemporary songs are satisfied to simply repeat over and over, but “Blue Fox Drive” reinvents aspects of the tempo, tone, rhythm, and counterpointed vocals with each cycle. That it does so in a straight-faced flurry of only 40 seconds is commendable.
The following two tracks, “Trails” and “Apollo,” are smoother and less adventurous, instead opting to nail down a more focused sound. “Trails” is a particularly interesting meld of indie songwriting and math rock overtones. Trembling guitar effects nicely creep in and out of the far reaches of the stereo mix.
“Apollo,” on the other hand, keeps the instrumental elements at a distance, providing either sustained textures or melodic echoes as a fluid backdrop to the band’s two vocalists. This provides a clearing for their understated delivery to briefly peek into a high register for some of the most lovely and expansive vocal harmonies on the record. Notably, the last leg gets noisy and reinstates the drums largely absent from the preceding few minutes. This is a neat moment, as it mirrors the final lyrics of “Apollo,” proclaiming “I only hear the war drums” as it transitions directly into the closing track.
“Wolf Mountain” jumps immediately into a new 6/8 time signature and gradually builds a soft glow around the militaristic snare rolls. It intermittently toggles from its pretty flourishes to a dry 4/4 pep that, while keeping the flow fun and engaging, tends to chop down the song every time it wants to build. The better surprise here are the lyrics, which are the most tangible on the album. They introduce scene after scene of poetic, reminiscent small-town imagery instead of the first-person soul searching found in much of the EP leading up to this point. Lines range from borderline abstract (“Smoking from an apple, kissing in a chapel / Jesus feeling older every day”) to concrete and declarative (“Hickory trees and west coast dreams made Oklahoma so dull”), yet “Wolf Mountain” feels no less on a quest for meaning than its predecessors.
The lush arrangements on The Relativity EP rise to a sweet, wordless finale that tops the album off with utmost satisfaction, a sign of the compositional background The So Help Me’s bring to the table. Unlike most bands pouring out of the University of Central Oklahoma, they hail from jazz and classical teachings rather than contemporary music ones. As a result, their sound is loose and exploratory, but their execution is reasoned and on point. They aren’t seasoned yet, but their engine is sturdy and accelerating in an exciting direction.