Fate works in mysterious ways. Just ask Jade Lilitri, the softly-spoken brains behind New York’s Oso Oso. Before the initial low-key release of 2017’s excellent second album ‘The Yunahon Mixtape’, he was booking a tour that could well have been Oso Oso’s final stint on the road. Then ‘Yunahon’ hit the right ears and what could’ve been a farewell swansong became a victory lap.
“You know, I’m a little bit older and a little bit more tired,” he considers, with a nod to his previous life as part of indie-punks State Lines. “I was actually thinking that maybe, after that tour, Oso Oso would just become a recording project – like I’m sure I’d keep putting out EPs and albums – but perhaps only tour once every three years.
“But once we put it out, it started gaining interest from different areas. My friend said ‘I’ll press it for you on vinyl if you want’. Then journalists and bloggers started to get into it via Twitter. Like we got this Fader interview, and there was a Pitchfork review and stuff like that. That all happened so fast.”
In many ways, the digital landscape has proved to be a great leveller for music, making things much more of a meritocracy than they have been for the last 30 years. Good music will always find a home, and this is the world in which ‘The Yunahon Mixtape’ was delivered. First self-released digitally just three days after it was finished in January 2017, it quickly spread via word-of-mouth, ultimately finding its way onto numerous end of year lists.
In this case, fortune favoured the brave, rewarding Lilitri’s faith in the album and belief that it was worth waiting for the right opportunity to come along.
“I guess, initially, I felt like any interest that was there wasn’t really strong interest,” he says. “Maybe it was a little bit of a defeatist attitude, but I was also kind of betting on myself; like ‘OK, this record is good’. I definitely felt like we could do something with it, but with the previous records, the interest was low in terms of how many records we’d sell, and the fanbase was smaller. I guess it kind of felt like there was no way to prove that the record was worth it.”
In hindsight, it was a fantastically shrewd decision. An original vinyl pressing on Seal Mountain sold out almost instantly, while the increased profile allowed him to make the jump to respected independent Triple Crown for a much larger pressing run. Once again, it is Triple Crown who provide a home for the equally stunning follow-up, ‘Basking In The Glow’. It’s a suitably delicate return, awash with pastel shades and bathed in cerulean blue skies. It exists in a post-emo world – the same space occupied by the likes of sensitive indie rockers Death Cab For Cutie or The Shins, where every song serves as a snapshot frozen in time, beautifully-realised and expertly-scored.
Just like these acts, there are plenty of through-lines between Oso Oso’s records, marrying ‘The Yunahon Mixtape’ and ‘Basking In The Glow’ together and making it feel instantly familiar, but ambitious enough that it isn’t a re-tread. Everything feels brighter and cleaner, and when it needs to push into overdrive – like on lead single ‘Dig’ – it does so with gusto. Such ambition might have felt out of place on the more intimate ‘Yunahon Mixtape’, but here it feels triumphant.
Not that such strides sit too comfortably with Lilitri. With ‘The Yunahon Mixtape’, Oso Oso quietly released it to little fanfare almost as soon as it was finished. The upside of this was that it left Lilitri with little time to dwell on his creation. With ‘Basking In The Glow’, they wrapped in February, meaning he’s currently had to live with it for an anxiety-inducing five months. Understandably, Lilitri finds himself ruminating on every decision he made when committing ‘Basking In The Glow’ to tape.
“I definitely feel like this in-between time is rough,” he laughs. “With ‘Yunahon’, we finished it and then just put it out. There was no time to second-guess it and think ‘well, maybe people aren’t gonna like this’.
“I’m super proud of this record, and I’m definitely excited about it,” he continues, “but there are days where I wake up and don’t like it as much as I did the day before. Or there are days when I wake up, and I love it more than ever.
“And maybe it can be rough for the listeners too,” he considers. “Maybe you hear a single, and you like it, but it’s from a band that you’re not too invested in, and you listen to it for about a week or two, but then you forget that the album is supposed to come out because it doesn’t come out for three or four months.”
Not that Lilitri should be concerned. ‘Basking In The Glow’ is an assured follow-up to one of indie-rock’s most outstanding moments of the last five years. Whereas last time there was a plot and narrative – a response to the novels and films Lilitri was watching at the time – here everything stands alone, more autobiographical and personal, but no less rounded. It’s ‘The Yunahon Mixtape’ in microcosm yet painted with bolder strokes.
“I hate these songs I sing, this empty drink, do I even give a fuck, well, I don’t know,” he sings on ‘Basking In The Glow’s title track, still in possession of that underdog spirit that permeated ‘The Yunahon Mixtape’. Once again, when these songs reach receptive ears – and there are now plenty more out there – it should assuage any lingering doubts Lilitri has over yet another gorgeously-defined collection of songs.
Taken from the September issue of Upset. Oso Oso’s album ‘Basking In The Glow’ is out now.