My first thought when I heard “The View” – the second track on Basking in the Glow but first in earnest, with a full band and a chorus (the latter of which will prove to be very important on this record) – was that it sounds like it’s from 2003. A pop-punk song from 2003; from a major label band, and a song that would have stuck. We’d still know all the words today.
I guess whether this is a compliment or not depends on your feelings about 00s mall punk, but I absolutely mean it as one. More importantly, it seems that Jade Lilitri – the man behind Oso Oso – would take it as one, or at least isn’t afraid of hearing it. The harmonies, the bouncy chorus, the bridge that drops into half-time, they all feel crafted with such deliberate nostalgia, reverence even, for that era of punk. That’s the common musical thread of the record, all the way through – I hear, at different times, flashes of Dashboard Confessional, Saves The Day, All-American Rejects. (These are less cool influences than the ones I’ve seen critics assign to Oso Oso in the past, like Death Cab For Cutie and Built To Spill; then again, the way that nostalgia cycles means a whole generation listening to this is probably more attracted to the former than the latter.) Perhaps oxymoronically, though, it doesn’t feel like we’ve heard it before – it’s not a copycat, and most of the time you can’t pin it down to whom exactly it sounds like. It would have been an entry in the canon of that time in its own right, and it deserves the same in its own time too.
If Basking in the Glow were leaning on nostalgia rather than pulling from it, what we’d hear is ten of the same song; major key, big chorus, crashing bridge. Those songs are there – ‘The View,’ ‘Basking in the Glow,’ ‘A Morning Song’ – and they’re album highlights too because Lilitri does them so well. But what he also does brilliantly is keep the 00s thread running while building around it in different ways. Pulling the tempo down to something brooding and restrained in ‘Dig’ and ‘Priority Change’; bringing in the drum machine intro and the delicate looping riff to ‘Impossible Game.’ There are two acoustic songs, with very different feels – the moody ‘Intro,’ with ambient rain noises beneath it, and the whimsical ‘One Sick Game.’
Lilitri’s hold on his melodies, even stronger on his choruses, proves that the key to a great pop-punk album is mastering the ‘pop’ part. The kind of chorus that you feel in your lungs, that you can sing along to like it’s muscle memory even when you haven’t heard it in years; that’s what Lilitri does like it’s easy. While Oso Oso has so many peers in emo and pop-punk that clutter their songs with over-intricate riffs and clever self-congratulatory lyrics, Lilitri’s songwriting is a step above those bands for being uncomplicated. Not shallow; mind you. Much more can be said in straightforwardness, both lyrically and musically, than in verboseness.
He has a knack with lyrics too, has a knack for writing lines that would sound melodramatic in the wrong hands yet hit hard in his. ‘ Don’t ask ’cause I never could tell / All I need is four walls to make it my own hell’ , from ‘The View’; ‘Not quite a saint nor a sinner / So don’t bother saving no souls’, from ‘Priority Change’. You appreciate the wholeheartedness more in its musical context, too; dry and detached works for some, but not for the extravagant emo-punk Lilitri’s mining from.
One singular musical influence that comes round, again and again, is Brand New. I hear it first on the record opener, the acoustic ‘Intro,’ with its somber, repetitive picking and swirling vocals. It’s there, too, on ‘Dig,’ and on the closing ‘Charlie’ – the record’s minor-key moments, its most downbeat parts. They are the quintessential emo band from Long Island, where Lilitri too hails from, so it’s easy to imagine that they were a sort of musical Pied Piper as he came through the scene there. It’s hard to know, though, how Lilitri would take that comparison now, since most of us have such complicated feelings on that band since Jesse Lacey’s alleged misconduct came to light – a band, so many of us once loved, and now can’t in good conscience listen to. It’s comforting though, to find a record that recalls them (as I did last year too, with Foxing’s Nearer My God) and plug up a little more of the gap that they left.
It also highlights the real difference between Basking in the Glow and the influences it pulls from, which is that it comes from a much more pleasant world. Brand New, and so many other bands of their time wrote songs plagued with misogyny, slut-shaming, questionable attitudes to consent, fragile masculinity that was sharper and more twisted coming from sensitive boys who painted their nails, maybe wore eyeliner, were the nice guys. The kind of lyrics, from most of those bands, where you really have to focus on how excellent the sonics are – and usually, they’re great, hence why they’re worth listening to at all – because the words just aren’t reconciliatory with anything any decent person thinks. Lilitri’s words, meanwhile, are not bitter, don’t point the finger, are certainly not violent as many songs from that era can teeter on or outright embrace. They’re self-examining, honest, appreciative of the light and accepting of the dark. For Lilitri to pull from those sonic aesthetics but leave behind the ugly parts is such a relief, makes it all the more euphoric when those choruses hit, and you can sing along guilt-free.
Basking in the Glow is only made better by the fact that, in all its nostalgia, it could have been lazy; could have been a fun pastiche, a callback, a winking eye; yet Lilitri never lets it coast. This is Jade Lilitri proving himself – at three albums in, a crucial point – a brilliant songwriter. Looking behind him for influence, but stretching himself forward all the while.