Since 2009, Ovlov’s transmissions have been sporadic, but they’ve always been impactful. The band’s early run of EPs established the Connecticut four-piece as a modern update on a certain strain of northeastern indie-rock. By the time the band’s debut album Am was released in 2013, Ovlov was getting comparisons to Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh tossed in their direction, and while those elements were certainly present in their sound, Ovlov always let catchy pop hooks slip into the mix too. On their third album, Buds, those pop elements are more pronounced than they’ve ever been before.
“I would like to think that the songs on this album are all pop songs at the core,” says Steve Hartlett, the band’s songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist. On first blush, Buds won’t shock longtime Ovlov fans, but on repeat listens, those fuzzy, crushing guitars start to feel less like the central focus and more of a delivery system for Hartlett’s grander ambitions. “For the past few years, the number of rock bands I’ve been listening to has grown smaller and smaller,” says Hartlett. “Unfortunately, it’s the only genre and style I’ve ever really felt comfortable writing. That’s probably mostly because I write everything on a guitar. Don’t get me wrong, I love rock music—there’s nothing more satisfying than playing an E chord through a Big muff as loud as the amp will go—I just want to slowly progress into writing the most perfectly poppy of pop songs.”
Recorded with the same producer and engineer who has handled every Ovlov album, Michael John Thomas III at his Black Lodge Studio in Brooklyn, Buds is the latest document of Ovlov’s slow and sturdy evolution. But this time, the band’s become even more of a family affair. Though Steve’s long been riffing alongside guitarist Morgan Luzzi, the band was started with Steve’s younger brother Theo on drums. This time around, their older brother Jon joined them on bass—and their dad, Ted, even stops in to rip a sax solo on “Cheer Up, Chihiro!” Considering the Hartlett brothers learned how to play music together, it’s a full circle moment as they all come together in service of making Ovlov’s most fully realized statement yet.
Opening with “Baby Shea,” Hartlett lovingly reflecting on the bond’s formed at the beloved Brooklyn venue Shea Stadium, the album starts on a note of bittersweet appreciation. “Just as the majority of my songs are about the loss of either life or love, I think the majority of the songs on this album are as well,” says Hartlett. With a pounding backbeat and thick layers of guitar fuzz, Ovlov show they’ve lost none of their vigor in the years since TRU. But while loss permeates the record, there are moments of celebration, like “Cheer Up, Chihiro!” which sees Hartlett finally finishing the Spirited Away-inspired song he’s had kicking around since the Am days but could never get just right. “It’s always been one of my favorite songs that I’ve written, most likely because I can’t help but picture scenes from Spirited Away whenever I play or hear it.”
For Buds, Ovlov once again turned to Jordyn Blakely of Stove and Smile Machine to add additional vocals to the composition. But a couple chance meetings also brought a couple new voices to the fold. After meeting at Shea Stadium, Hartlett became close with Erin McGrath from Dig Nitty and invited her to sing on two of the album’s tracks, and a random Instagram message from Alex Gehring of shoegaze icons Ringo Deathstarr culminated in her contributing backing vocals to three songs as well. The result of this communal effort is a record that’s harmonious and powerful, as Ovlov work through a heavy few years with some heavy riffing and hearty hooks. Buds is dense and dark, but Hartlett’s assertion is dead-on: these are just big, bold pop songs. It’s still Ovlov, but a more assured version, one that isn’t so shy about putting their ambitions on full display.