Fuzz-Pop Cult Faves Ovlov Scale Back the Squall a Bit on Buds

Steve Hartlett and co.'s songwriting shines through the haze on their LP3

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Fuzz-Pop Cult Faves Ovlov Scale Back the Squall a Bit on <i>Buds</i>

Do you ever stop and thank the gods of rock ‘n’ roll for blessing us with fuzzy guitar sounds?

If you don’t, consider doing so tonight when you say your prayers. Because while the electric guitar is a pretty cool and versatile instrument that has formed the foundation of a whole bunch of great songs over the past several decades, it never sounds quite as warm and welcoming as it does when it’s run through a distortion pedal and comes out feelin’ real fuzzy.

Ovlov know this. Listening to the Connecticut indie-rock band’s first two albums—2013’s Am and 2018’s Tru—is like drinking from the fuzz-guitar firehose; the swirl of distortion is so thick at times, it feels like you could drop into it and disappear. And yet the songs always feel bright and buoyant, a testament to main Ovlov-er Steve Hartlett’s skill as a composer. Like Built to Spill and/or Dinosaur Jr.’s, his tunes are never overwhelmed by the sound.

On their third album Buds, Ovlov scale back the squall a bit and bring those tunes to the forefront. Don’t misunderstand: Hartlett and his crew still know how to dial up the fuzz, as they do with great gusto on the album’s punky, 98-second opening track, “Baby Shea.” But on Buds, they deploy it with more restraint, giving space to cleaner tones that jangle and chime, and to Hartlett’s charming melodies.

Exhibit A is “The Wishing Well,” a song that packs a whole bunch of hooks into its two-minute running time. Dreamy guitar arpeggios seesaw back and forth with short, crunchy guitar blasts as Hartlett delivers his best vocal performance of the album: “I had a lot to write on down,” he sings, “while you built yourself a bigger set and acted like a bigger clown.” Album closer “Feel the Pain” is more than twice as long as “The Wishing Well,” but it follows a similar quiet-loud-quiet pattern and features more frustration and rejection:

I could not love you more
So much so, you showed me to the door
Life drove me insane
I just wish my pain would stay inside

Hartlett is an idiosyncratic lyricist and it sometimes feels as if he’s simply stringing words together around a feeling. And maybe he is. (Heck, maybe that’s writing lyrics.) But he has a knack for finding just the right gut-punch at just the right time, as he does on “Eat More,” a song that sort of ambles nonchalantly for two and a half minutes. Then, all of a sudden, Hartlett sings “Kissing to feel / My garbage is real” with real ache in his voice, which seems to summon a wave of guitar feedback and a noisy coda that brings the track to life.

Buds is short—eight tracks, 25 minutes—but it’s full of fun little moments. Repeated listens to “Land of Steve-O” reveal a pop song with a post-punk heart and inescapable The Colour and the Shape-era Foo Fighters vibes. Speaking of which, there’s a song here called “The Strokes,” which sounds approximately like the DIY Strokes that never were. And “Cheer Up, Chihiro!” features some rumbling low end and a completely unexpected saxophone solo courtesy of Hartlett’s dad, Ted. Whoa … you rock, Mr. Hartlett!

Actually, Buds is a family affair, with Hartlett’s younger brother Theo on drums and older brother Jon on bass. (Guitarist Morgan Luzzi rounds out the lineup.) Together, they’ve pulled off a trick that trips up a lot of bands: They’ve followed up a cult-fave album (or in this case, two) with an effort that preserves the band’s strengths while also showcasing artistic growth and illuminating a path forward. Tonight, when you thank those rock ‘n’ roll gods for fuzzy guitars, thank ‘em for Ovlov, too.

Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.