Pepper – OHANA
1.) Start You Up
3.) The Invite
4.) Never Ending Summer
7.) Big Mistake
8.) Perfect Stranger
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: April 29th, 2016
Record Label: Law Records
Official Website: Pepper Website
Since forming in Kona, Hawaii in 1997, Pepper has grown into one of the most popular reggae-rock bands of the past decade. After a nearly three year hiatus following the release of their EP Stitches, the band took a risk and updated their sound for the release of their self-titled album in 2013, and are now primed to give their fans even more of the high-energy, summertime sound that they’ve come to know and love with the self-produced Ohana. The aforementioned self-titled album was met with mixed reviews from fans that had grown accustomed to a cookie cutter Pepper sound, so the band is taking a slightly different approach with Ohana. “Compared to the recent self-titled, there’s definitely more reggae [on Ohana] for sure.” Says Drummer, Yesod Williams. “Our main goal is to record it on the record as we play it live. Because there are a lot of elements on a record that usually aren’t portrayed live, so rather than aim for a specific sound, we want to capture the energy of the live shows, and be able to play every song from the record live… We always will be and always have been just three guys on stage, so we want to make sure it sounds like there’s three guys on stage, in the studio.”
To everyone that wanted a reggae-rock album, you got your wish. Whether or not that makes Ohana a hit record is questionable.
With the first track “Start You Up,” the album immediately establishes itself as a return to the Pepper of old. Featuring guitarist Kaleo Wassman’s soothing vocals over a steady stream of organ keys, the song is reminiscent of the slower tunes featured on early releases such as Kona Town and No Shame. Despite the strong start, when we segue into the album’s single “Vacation,” we find Ohana’s Achilles heel -– lyricism.
The song starts off promising, with all the elements of another libido-fueled summer anthem present, but as the song reaches its chorus one can’t help but feel let down by lyrics that were either rushed or haphazardly thrown together. Bassist Bret Bollinger provides a jolt of fun-loving energy to the verses, but it isn’t enough to salvage the song as a whole.
Unfortunately, this is a trait that’s found throughout the album, and it’s one that I can’t imagine would be present if there were an experienced producer at the helm. Ohana is the first album that Pepper has self-produced along with the help of engineer Mike Sutherland, and although they are frequent collaborators, neither have the pedigree or critical eye of former producing partners such as Paul Leary or 311’s Nick Hexum. Some songs that could have used more critique include “Reckless,” an overall forgettable tune, as well as lyrical graveyards “The Invite” and “Perfect Stranger.”
Despite some production hiccups, the instrumentals throughout this album are superb. There are no overproduced beats or repetitive upskanks, rather simple and catchy melodies that achieve the “three guys in the studio” sound.
Songs such as “Never Ending Summer,” “Wait,” and “Big Mistake” are standouts on this album, not only for their overall execution, but because they show a maturity in the band’s music. I don’t expect the band to make the same kind of music or write about the same themes that they did ten years ago, and these songs feel appropriate for this stage in Pepper’s career. Perhaps the biggest standout and my favorite track on this album is “Bones,” a soulful campfire tune that is stylistically unlike anything Pepper has released to date, yet still feels familiar both audibly and in spirit.
Overall, Ohana had potential but was questionably executed. There is the basis of some great songs and new styles present, but the lyrical execution on this album is lacking, making Ohana feel rushed. Pepper has never been known for their lyrical prowess, and the fact that the album only has ten songs doesn’t help, but all the criticisms outlined in this review have been echoed since their last LAW Records release Pink Crustaceans and Good Vibrations in 2008, so it is a bit concerning to see the band continue to struggle to put out a well acclaimed release. Despite the shortcomings, seeing Pepper explore new themes and styles in their music is a welcome sign. The band is coming off a re-branding of sorts, and this album shows that the band is still searching for their new identity, but with songs like “Never Ending Summer” and “Bones,” I think Pepper is back on the right track.
Written & Reviewed By: Andrew Aroche
[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, NOT the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]
Watch: Pepper – “Start You Up”