Graded on a Curve:
Ohr,
Walk in the Light

Ohr (that’s pronounced or) is the new project of Craig Klein, formerly of Chicago’s The Race, though he’s long since relocated to Seattle. Ohr’s sound is unabashedly psychedelic, and with particular attentiveness to the 1990s, but, as the choice of moniker helpfully underscores, there are deeper levels of inspiration. Walk in the Light is Ohr’s debut record, a 17-track extravaganza available on four sides of vinyl (colored ohrange, nyuk nyuk) and digitally. To describe Klein’s endeavor as sprawling isn’t inaccurate, but the set never wears out its welcome. Impressively disciplined and a pleasure to hear, it’s out now via Headstate Records.

Releasing a double album as a debut takes chutzpah. 2LP-length debuts (well, any long record, really) can also prove unfocused and either overdetermined or undercooked (and occasionally, a combination of both). Sometimes, the contents are downright disastrous. Happily, none of this applies to Walk in the Light. As extended debuts (this one breaks 72 minutes) don’t arrive all that often, the matter is pertinent here.

Upon due consideration (in other words, the proper handful of spins), it seems like maybe Craig Klein chose to make a long record, at least in part, because a significant portion of his influences derive from a time when folks regularly made long records. Why’d they do that? Because they could (i.e., nobody was stopping them), that’s why.

I’ve complained with some regularity in this column and elsewhere about excessively long albums, a tendency that proliferated during the CD era, and with results that were decidedly mixed. But Ohr maintains consistency throughout Walk in the Light, which is both refreshing and borderline remarkable, as the largest percentage of Klein’s inspirations helped to define the CD era.

As the selections unwound, I heard touches of Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev but considerably more Spiritualized (there are even a few moments recalling late-period Spacemen 3) amid passages of Manchester-style neo-psych. But spanning back a couple decades, there are also numerous upsurges of kosmische. Ohr was also the name of an early ’70s German record label, don’tcha know. Amongst its releases are killers by Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Temple, Guru Guru, Amon Düül, and Klaus Schulze.

Walk in the Light starts out in exactly this spacy, drifty mode, though roughly mid-way through “It’s On,” the drums kick in and the track gets nearer to motorik territory. This scenario rolls directly into “Golden Ceilings,” where the resonances struck me as a little akin to the Beta Band, in no small part due to Klein’s singing. There are tangible differences however, such as a deeper influx of psych elements, e.g., organ tones, reversed guitar parts, and a whole lot of echo.

These effects stretch into “Growth Mindset” as the sound morphs into a Jason Peirce-like zone. It’s here that I’ll elaborate that all these similarities don’t come across like blatant appropriations. For example, while the title track gets a tad Revved and Lipsy, it cuts that mustard with aspects that brought Anton Newcombe’s recent stuff to mind.

With this said, “Chains of Love” does lay on the Spacemen 3-Spiritualized vibes pretty heavily, but with layers of reverberating analog synths and a few substantially non-Peirce/ Sonic Boom-ish rock interjections. It leads into “Mindbender,” which is a lot more laid back than its title might suggest. It’s also an album highlight, the song having absorbed a potent neo-psych marinade without sounding like anyone in particular.

“Loaded” is a smidge reminiscent of Animal Collective enveloped in synth swirls, pulses, and cascades, but the strummed guitars in the cut’s later portion nod toward the ’90s UK. This string strum is a major component in “Heaven,” but in between these cuts, “Solina” begins with almost New Agist sunrise glisten (and maybe a slight hint of The Beatles) before shifting into much darker atmospheres in its back half.

By this point, Klein’s modus operandi is firmly established. And yet, there are a few twists in store, such as how “Treats” gets full-on dancy. Also, that Walk in the Light has a track titled “Flow” is wildly appropriate, as one of the strongest qualities of the album is in how it just ceaselessly rolls along, at least when listening digitally. While the vinyl offers a unique reality that’s equally appealing, experiencing this set as an uninterrupted whole at least a few times is recommended, as it reinforces the ’90s aura.

“Flow” has a pop side that nicely follows “Treats” and sets up another groover in “Level Up,” though that one harkens back to the festival tent as much as the club. In the wrong hands, all this could’ve ended up sounding horrid, but the foundation (here and all over the record) is worthy songs. Klein wrote and produced, and while he enlisted some help instrumentally, Walk in the Light is very much an auteur project.

Initially infused with slow glide and chime, “Arrow to the Sun” transitions and comes out the other side as one more funky mover, this time unequivocally dancefloor inclined. Poised to last for a good long time, it instead wraps up in under five minutes. If a long album, the individual selections here embody the concise (as there are 17 of them).

The organ and synth-imbued “Ruby Star” returns to the album’s neo-psych template as the immersive layering, steadily increasing rhythms and ever mounting beauty crescendo of “Sunbreaks” extend it. With “Dream I Don’t Remember,” Klein brings it all back down, settling into terrain that’s appealingly drowsy but pretty, as accented by the simplicity of its piano line, before it all gets awash in effects.

Reaching nearly seven minutes, “Orange Glow” is Walk in the Light’s longest track, its spaciousness delivering a fitting conclusion to an unusually sure handed introductory statement, one that’s doubtlessly strengthened by Klein’s prior experience. What Ohr night lack in originality or distinctiveness is more than made up for with unexpected turns and by just getting it right.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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