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Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010

OK Go Gets Funky

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One thing that is immediately obvious when hearing OK Go’s latest album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, is that the band didn’t try to write another song like “Here It Goes Again.” That tune, from the group’s 2005 album Oh No, gained attention for its breakout video, a take of the four band members doing a choreographed dance on treadmills to their peppy guitar-pop song. Rather than continue in the catchy guitar-pop vein of the first albums, though, OK Go decided to explore a different side of their musical interests, tapping into their fondness for 1980s-era Prince, funk, vintage techno, folk and fantastical pop—a huge stylistic leap, but one that bassist Tim Nordwind says shouldn’t shake fans too much.

“I think what people expect from us are continuous left turns, which is a really good position to be in,” Nordwind says. “It means we don’t have to go write the same record over again.”

Though Of the Blue Colour is a sonic and instrumental departure for the band, it does retain many of the group’s trademarks. Pop melodies dominate the album, with songs like “White Knuckles,” “This Too Shall Pass” and “WTF?” delivering the expected stick-in-your-head hooks.

On “White Knuckles” and “I Want You So Bad I Can’t Breathe,” the group injects much more of a groove into the songs, giving them a bit of a Prince-like feel. On songs like “WTF?” and “Before the Earth Was Round,” OK Go departs from its familiar guitar-based sound and puts more of an electronic sheen on the melodies. The band also injects some grand pomp into “This Too Shall Pass,” stark acoustic sounds on “Last Leaf” and dreamy soundscapes into “While You Were Asleep.”

The band knew before they began recording that they wanted this to be a different type of album.

“It was somewhat of an organic process,” Nordwind says. “A lot of it, I think, had to do with us sort of exorcising all of our teenage and college, punk-rock demons on the last two records. So much of our last two records were sort of these guitar-based songs. I think we finally got to a point where we just were not as interested in that anymore.”

So, Nordwind says, the band members turned to earlier influences, namely ’80s pop artists such as Prince, Talking Heads and Michael Jackson.

“Instead of going for bar chords and things like that, we were working with slightly smaller and sort of dinkier, like funk guitar lines,” he said. “We were trying to keep the guitar out of the way of the groove a lot more and just using it more as an accent than a main instrument. It just felt good to do.”

Creating an album that opens up so many stylistic doors was not a quick process. The popularity of “Here It Goes Again” prompted OK Go to extend its touring cycle behind Oh No, to the point where the band ended up doing nearly three years of shows.

With so much road work, it took the band a good six months to readjust to home life and get to a place where they could begin writing songs. As the songs took shape, the band decided on a producer: Dave Fridmann.

“A lot of these songs are sort of big and expansive at the same time,” Nordwind says. “At a certain point we knew we were going to be recording with Dave Fridmann, who did all those sort of big, majestic Flaming Lips records and things like that, but also he’s recently done sort of funkier stuff like MGMT, funkier and more electronic stuff. So we started writing more toward that. We were writing a mixture of that big, expansive sound versus a sometimes smaller, tighter, electronic groovy sound. That’s how we got to what Of the Blue Colour of the Sky was.”

OK Go plays the first night of FM 102.1’s Big Snow Show at The Rave on Monday, Dec. 13, with Cake and Switchfoot.