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Oh Pep! Embraces Pop On 'I Wasn't Only Thinking About You...'

The latest album from Oh Pep! <em>I Wasn't Only Thinking About You...</em> is<em> </em>out Oct. 26 on ATO Records.
The latest album from Oh Pep! <em>I Wasn't Only Thinking About You...</em> is<em> </em>out Oct. 26 on ATO Records.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

It's right there in the title: I Wasn't Only Thinking About You... To anyone who might assume a song or two could be about them, Oh Pep! offers an album-wide truth: relationships are never clear-cut. The Australian duo's musically disparate, thematically cohesive sophomore record cuts to the core of these relationships, and resists the urge to simplify or glamorize the details.

Stadium Cake, Oh Pep!'s 2016 debut, was a genreless delight. Olivia Hally (vocals and guitar) and Pepita Emmerichs (mandolin and violin) met at school in Melbourne and began playing together nearly a decade ago, finding their footing in a distinctive place between folk and pop. The songs varied from gentle to urgent, progressing through storytelling arcs and revolving pizzicato countermelodies to arrive at startling destinations. Their follow-up hits the same highs, but this time around, Oh Pep! unapologetically embraces genre: pop.

The tracks that make up I Wasn't Only Thinking About You... are centered around relationships, but they don't belabour or trivialize the emotional depths. In a few cases, like on "What's The Deal With David," "Asking For" and "There Would Be A Riot," Hally and Emmerichs move beyond romance and write about the riddles of platonic love. The relatable themes of heartbreak, euphoria and friendship are fractured and enlarged by the sharp specificity of the lyrics, such as "You have too much sex in Norway" and "You've got my record coming in the mail now any day." Pop is saturated with falsified events and one-sided retellings in which characters — particularly women — are diminished into lyrics that rhyme rather than narratives that capture the less poetic reality. I Wasn't Only Thinking About You... not only creates a rare space for nuance, but does so with artful, dance-worthy tracks.

Oh Pep! crystalize the capacity for complexity on back-to-back tracks, "Hurt Nobody" and "Truths." The former is a standout of sweltering anticipation and cathartic release where Hally sings, "I don't wanna hurt nobody," while on the latter she declares, "I know that I am mean to you." The about-face is not so much hypocrisy as contradiction. I Wasn't Only Thinking About You... chronicles that purely human trait and encourages listeners to experience the songs — and their own lives — in all their unrestrained reality.

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