It is Advent and I officially have holiday songs on regular rotation, including this lovely Christmas EP by the folk duo The Oh Hellos. Last month I reviewed their latest album, Dear Wormwood, for Image Journal‘s e-mail newsletter—a free, weekly dispatch of recommendations in the world of art & faith. My brief album review is posted below, but I also recommend you treat yourself by reading the entire ImageUpdate newsletter here.
Folk Tunes Inspired by C.S. Lewis
Sibling bandmates Maggie and Tyler Heath of The Oh Hellos found inspiration for their sophomore album in their favorite books. The title, Dear Wormwood, refers to C.S. Lewis’ well-known epistolary novel, The Screwtape Letters, which features an elder demon advising a demon-in-training in the art of tempting humans to sin. In addition to informing their imagery, this classic led them to shape the songs as one-sided letters written to an abuser. The duo also acknowledges Patrick Rothfuss’s fantasy novel In Name of the Wind as another influence. With such strong literary muses in the mix, listeners may at first fear that the music itself could be so heavily sown with the thoughts and atmospheres of other works that it fails to bloom in its own right. Not so. Layered melodies build restlessly to complement verses with strong images—blood and honey, fire and horses, empty cups and crouching devils. Verses of alternating male and female vocals eventually morph into passionate choruses that are often statements of confession or new resolve. In an early track (“Bitter Water”) each vocalist has a chance to sing out as the narrator: “I know I shouldn’t love you / But I do.” By the title track, a new force of will emerges against the enemy: “I have always known you, you have always been there in my mind / But now I understand you, and I will not be part of your designs.” Ultimately, this musical journey resembles a scriptural one, from temptation and doubt to freedom.