Be afraid, fellow collegiate music consumers, as we are getting to that sad age where some of the bands we listen to are the same age as we are. Case in point: Brad Oberhofer, frontman of cutesy lo-fi pop group Oberhofer, is 20 years old. The former NYU student and Tacoma transplant trades in the sort of indie rock that evokes Brian Wilson comparisons and works in the whimsical sounds of whistling and glockenspiels to create a sense of romanticism. His homemade replications of those Phil Spector-helmed “Wall of Sound” productions have been making rounds on the web since 2009. Now, with three years of touring under his belt, Time Capsules II shows a bit more brawn and a bit more brains, all while retaining a childlike perspective on love and its associated thrills and spills.
Most evidently, Oberhofer exchanges a sonic palette that most resemblea Wavves’ shambling and distorted output circa “No Hope Kids” for one that more accurately represents his background in classical music. Arpeggiated pianos, twinkling bells and swelling strings buff up the formerly shoestring production values of tracks like “oOoO.” Oberhofer’s live shows are spazzy and chaotic (albeit charmingly); his arms flail to produce rapid-fire downstrokes and there’s little sign of orchestration save a lone glockenspiel. In contrast, this album moves along with a sort of harmonious, overblown swagger.
Album opener “HEART” evolves from a delicately and patiently played piano line into a bona fide ivory-tickler backed by trilling bells, melodramatic violins and a slamming, heavily reverberated snare drum. “Haus” starts off innocuously enough, with a simple spindling guitar riff, but manages to, at different times, change keys and time signatures. The post-chorus’ 6/8 jig dissolves into arrhythmic chaos before returning to the opening riff and joyous chorus, where Oberhofer plaintively expresses his desire to “build a house with you.”
The intelligent, maximalist compositions throughout seem somewhat at odds with Oberhofer’s vocal and lyrical stylings. His rhyme schemes are relatively elementary and his are vocals undoubtedly unrefined, but it all plays into Oberhofer’s puppy dog-eyed pledges of devotion to his unspecified lover. His best lyrical turns come when he veers into more cryptically put together descriptors (“The city’s feeling queer and crass/with beer cans growing blades of grass/to look like something new”) and geekily adorable admissions (“Like Mahler and Mozart, you tear me apart”). His choruses often form oft-repeated mantras that either gain momentum and meaning through repetition (“When I saw your face, I knew I was in love right away”) or merely seem like excuses to carry a catchy melody.
While young Oberhofer undoubtedly displays a bevy of clever tricks, whether they are unique arrangements, compositional left turns or winning melodic phrases (“Away FRM U” and “Cruising FDR” are just two of the highlights), throughout the entirety of Time Capsules II, he falls short of offering an album that shows any sort of arc. Perhaps this is due to its preoccupation with romance, a topic that can become a little overbearing when discussed by someone who delivers a message of such simplicity and yearning.
Still, the kid is 20 years old. Like Ke$ha, love is his drug. And, also like the heavily criticized paramour with pop songs made for amphetamine-fueled benders, he hasn’t yet seen the ugly side of the drug. Let him work through his innocence on record. After all, it is sweet; just remember that a little too much sweetness can cause a cavity.