“In Lieu of Flowers” by Eric Ott
75 or Less Records
File Under: indie, Americana, rock
Sounds like: Wilco, Simon and Garfunkel, Yo La Tengo
“Death was still such an abstract concept growing up.” “There’s a room that I go to in my mind when I want to think about death.” “It’s something that’s going to affect all of us.” These overlapping, meditative voice-overs guide the journey throughout Eric Ott’s death-inspired concept album, “In Lieu of Flowers.” What began as an RPM Challenge record in 2008 evolved into a vehicle for Ott to grapple with loss. Just like the stages of grief, his opus switches paces, styles, and perspectives often. To achieve his ambitious production goals, the award-winning songwriter enlisted the help of co-producer, engineer, and long-time collaborator Sean Yadisernia, as well as a bevy of musicians and friends including Dan McGary, Nate Laban, Chris Decato, and Mark Edgerly. The resulting ruminations about depression and the end of life turn in enjoyably surprising directions.
For “In Lieu of Flowers,” Ott tapped into new sonic inspiration, a longer list of collaborators, and an even bigger sound. Here, tackling the abstract concept of death and its effects on the living plays out in a number of successful stylistic and emotive choices, including his bread-and-butter Americana, indie rock, and even stadium pop and country. The production quality and magnitude of the diverse instrumentation, perhaps most notably Decato’s keyboards and the 10 contributing guitarists, are immediately noticeable. And yet, some of the biggest differences from Ott’s previous material are much more subtle.
Ott and guests slyly combine the earnest subject matter with playful musical or lyrical twists. On the opener, “Little Wars,” Ott tells a woeful tale of cancer and suicide, yet the catchy vocal melody — think They Might Be Giants meets Simon and Garfunkel — belies the morose message without making it a punchline. The song’s horn melodies could be interpreted as joyful or wailing. On “In Lieu,” that duality is a common theme that showcases a depth that can be difficult to achieve on concept records. Conversely, the stadium-pop anomaly, “Pop Starlet,” is full of triumphant hooks, keyboards, and guitar solos, while the lyrics reveal a cynical commentary about the hollow, even damaging love of celebrity and popular culture. It’s as infectious and powerful a song as an “Aladdin Sane”-era Bowie could have conceived, and one of the Seacoast’s best this year.
On “Old” and “Felt” we find Ott’s Americana sound with added hints of country twang and bended notes. Album highlights “If You Were Thinking” and the rocker “Under the Bed” merge Ott’s best anthemic melodies with his one of a kind songwriting and wit. “In Lieu of Flowers” is a diverse collection of expertly produced and compelling introspections that challenge us to listen, both as the living looking forward and as the dying looking back. It’s an outstanding record and a fitting one to round out one of the Seacoast’s finest, most productive years in recent memory.