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Album Review: Then & Now by OakVale

By August Edwards

OakVale’s first album, Then & Now, melds blunt, post-grunge honesty with individualistic empowerment for a dulcet infusion. The LP is set to be available on all streaming services 9/17/21.

After forming in 2018, the alt-rock fourpiece released their first single “Here I Am” in early 2020. OakVale’s enthusiasm and Albuquerque-honed sound helped them maintain an active position, despite odds against them that included a future lineup change. Now, after securing more high-profile shows under their belt this summer, they’ve emerged with an album embracing resolve, growth, and pop-like pleasure.

The album is comprised of Jude Sanchez taking vocals and lead guitar, Matthew Aguilar on rhythm guitar, Tom Kazemi on bass, and Dylan Hamp on drums. Hamp has since been replaced by drummer David Vasquez as of this August.

Even to the permissive ear, Then & Now is what every band might hope their first album sounds like. To take it a notch further, what makes Then & Now a radiant debut is that it brings me joy. Sometimes, that is the most important element a band can create for their listeners. The individualist mindset can, of course, be isolating, and that is one of the major themes of Then & Now. What cinches the message for me is that, while straightforward in nature, the album is a result of four people coming together to put forth a seamless creation.

Sanchez’s vocals take OakVale far; he’s skillful and locked in, and he has achieved some nuance. The harsher, more aggressive tone of the first track “Turn to Me” is a disarming start to the album—the vocals are more biting and challenging, and the guitar is shreddier and more intimidating. But this is complicated by later melodic and introspective tracks, like the contrasting “Hold On,” featuring Sanchez’s forgiving side: “Be strong / hold on / be strong / cause the sun will shine / the sun will shine on us again,” a melancholic, pleading incantation. Another evocative track, “I Need You,” is both gentle and harsh, containing a disorienting drone of keyboard and mimicking guitar. It has a nice structure, and it exemplifies the refinement OakVale can achieve.

The trajectory of the album seems to be a not-so-subtle turning away from God, however that entity is manifested within each of us, and finding some semblance of salvation in the self. After “Turn to Me,” Then & Now seems jampacked with reasons to turn away. Seasons change, and people fail and grow. In the end, we’re left with the memories of the journey we chose.

“333” is a testament to the bleakness of tough times and the strife of faith. With their prevailing heavy guitar, subtle harmonies, and a cloudlike creep of ruin, the song has an Ozzy Osbourne-like metal edge. This, with Hamp on drums deliberately sounding like clattering dishes, they’re following a recipe that results in one thing: controlled chaos. Following the pattern with mischievous guitar riffs and wile, the next track, “Judas” is a biblical evolution. “Sapient” is similarly playful, nice layering guitar voices. “I owe this song to myself,” Sanchez sings, simulating independence, and maybe rebellion.

The final track, “Means to End,” feels like a sinister finish to a reflective album—there’s a lot of attitude here, notably from the featured bass riffs and saucy, striking, statement rhythms. There is a clash happening with the lyrics—there are challenging sentiments like the lingering phrase: “Are you lonely, are you afraid? / Are you happy, or are you like me?” but there’s also an idea at the end that’s extremely triumphant and glorious: “This is our song / enjoy this moment ‘til it ends.”

The complexities of this album are representative of what tramps through our heads every day. Trying to find empowerment while facing unhappiness—that’s the true test we put ourselves through in this life. OakVale has captured this beautiful, human trademark, and have made their own mark, too.

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