Otobo’s self-titled album is the debut release from the highly creative minds of Josh Thorsey and Justin Holden. To say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard would be an understatement. ‘Avantgarde’ would be an understatement, too. The album opens with “Dawnbreaker”. What an insane introduction. Heavily distorted synthetic sounds and pitch-altered vocals (that verge on demonic) dominate this short and dissonant intro. I had no idea what to expect from the album at this point.

I certainly wasn’t expecting serene and stunning alternative rock, but that’s exactly what I got on “Masterpiece”. Gorgeous guitar and strings merge with absolutely spectacular vocals. An electronic beat with a tribal tinge drives the track. It’s ethereal, trippy, haunting, and beautiful. So beautiful. A soothing ballad for an intergalactic journey. And it transitions so expertly into “Sunseeker”. The calming qualities of the previous track are still present, but the guitar tone and effects blew me away on this one; there’s a bluesy middle-eastern aesthetic to it, but it’s so heavily manipulated that the track still has an alien, utterly unique feel to it. Listening to this highly experimental alt-rock gives me a similar feeling to the first time I heard OK Computer. The melodies are human, but there’s something jarring and unsettling about it. I mean that in the best possible way.

“Carry On” is a stripped-back acoustic ballad with a dark, blues vibe. It’s mesmerising that this duo can achieve so much with seemingly so little. It’s the fine details that are worth observing with Otobo. Their music has an intimate quality, but there are so many beautiful sounds to unpack. I love the synths that start to ring in the distance as the song progresses. “The Garden” continues the gentle, soothing vibe of the prior tracks, opting for a sharp, finger-picked guitar melody. There’s a beauty to the complexity of the overlapping, slightly-different arpeggios from two guitars on this track. It serves as a beautiful midway point on the album.

“Listen to the Birds” is another heart-wrenching ballad, but there’s always a joyous and uplifting feeling to the chord progressions in these songs. It feels nostalgic. Hopeful. “Sometimes I wanna spread my wings and fly / Just wanna jump right into the sky.” There’s something simultaneously sad and happy about those words. It’s the sublime harmonised vocals that really sell me on this song, though. I wasn’t expecting the slightly more electronic and experimental “Wind Song” that follows. A glitchy electronic beat, a warbling frequency, and sliding guitars drive this electronic-acoustic banger. There’s something infectious about the beat, particularly as the song progresses into a frenzy of emotion.

“Sweet Child” opens with such an ominous piano chord that I wasn’t expecting tender guitar and falsetto to follow. Again, Otobo leans on the experimental side with this one. Lots more Radiohead-esque sounds; notes floating in the abyss of a track that goes on a whirlwind journey from dark, gritty electronica to light, acoustic rock. It is followed by “Lazy Star”, which returns to soft alt-rock; the guitar is absolute perfection on this track. What a stunning finger-picked melody. Wow. And the vocals complement the chord progression wonderfully. The same can be said of “Release”, which is a hauntingly beautiful closer to an album which is brimming with raw, guitar-centric beauty and hardcore, electronic experimentation. An interesting listen from a promising duo.

Garth Thomas