You have to wonder: Had Brad Oberhofer been born with a different last name, would the songs he wrote turn out differently? Presumably, a lifetime of saying the name "Oberhofer" has made him particularly fond of the sound of the letter "O": Not a song goes by on his eponymous band's debut album without him embellishing a chorus with an "oh oh oh," massaging a jaunty piano line with an "oooh oooh oooh," or adding extra syllables to words like "know" and "gold." He even pays tribute to the letter and its sonorous tones with a centerpiece track titled "oOoO" that, true to its alternating capitalization, pits the "oh oh ohs" against the "oooh oooh oohs" to determine which makes the ultimate "O" sound. (It ends in a draw.) For Oberhofer, these O-gasms are like a facial tic or a very twee form of Tourette's-- something he seemingly just can't help. But in traversing Time Capsules II's 10 tales of lost love and the struggle to win it back, it becomes increasingly apparent that Oberhofer isn't prone to these utterances because all this inner turmoil has left him at a loss for words. Rather, they sound more like crafty attempts to invest basic sentiment with forced, festival crowd-baiting grandeur.
You can't blame Oberhofer for trying: After releasing two promising singles last year, the 21-year old Brooklyn-via-Tacoma songwriter has already scored a deal with Glassnote, and had his debut album produced by U2 go-to guy Steve Lillywhite. That would make Time Capsules II the umpteenth example of a once-modest indie band swinging for the fences in hopes of cracking the big leagues. Lead-off track "Heart" proves to be a textbook case of overreaching, introducing an oppressively serious, Supertramp-worthy piano motif before piling on all manner of Epic Statement signifiers (marching-band drums, melodramatic pauses, wordless choral crescendos) to convey the sensation of emotion being felt very deeply.
But the album's undoing isn't its ostentatious dressing; for all the gratuitous glockenspiel, strings, and candelabra-lit piano flourishes at work here, Oberhofer the band retains a refreshingly raucous presence. (Drummer Pete Sustarsic in particular sounds like he's waging war against the ornate instrumentation with his urgent, smash-and-bash style.) No, the real culprit is an unflattering mix that pushes Brad Oberhofer's over-excited voice too far in front of the music, to the point where he often sounds like the sore thumb in his own band. When he exclaims "I know you! I know you!" on "I Could Go", it sounds less like an intimate exchange between two soulmates than Christopher Guest coaching Harry Shearer and Martin Short in that old "SNL" synchronized-swimmers sketch.
Oberhofer's calling-card singles "Gotta Go" and "Away Frm U" (re-recorded for the album) posited them as mildly flamboyant fops in the Drums mold, mixing 1950s-prom balladry and 1980s new-wave in a manner that drew out the playfulness in their lovelorn narratives. There are songs here that retain that spirit: "Cruisin' FDR" possesses a winsome "Crocodile Rock" quality; "Landline" is Pulp's "Babies" given an Arcade Fire makeover. But compared to the wool-sweater warmth of those early recordings, Oberhofer's sad-sack persona and yelping vocal ad libs come off here as less endearing and more desperate, like someone trying to oversell simple songs with eccentric affectation. We all want to root for the lovable loser, but Time Capsules II takes the Lloyd Dobler act too far: Instead of trying to win the girl back with a boomboxed window serenade, it crates a grand piano right onto the f@&K lawn.