Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Some people insist that there is no other choice to be had other than a full investment in either love or religion. They are mutually exclusive of a full-bodied adamancy, an uninterrupted tie to faithfulness in the flesh - in other people of interspersed relationship - and of the divine, that nascent piece of guilt-inducing, holier than hell almighty spirit. They sometimes come as a package deal and then that only causes another set of expectations and issues. They are controlled by belief that barks at times and strokes our hair sweetly or scratches our backs during others, if we've let either of them in like the guests - permanent or visiting - that they are. Southern Illinois-area band Ohtis finds such rampant confliction in both love and Lord that it delves into these loaded and diverse subjects with the kind of woozy, trying-to-figure-this-all-out goal that so many before them have taken, regardless of musical instruments or lyric in-hand. But it keeps on happening - this attempt at coming to any sort of knowledgeable confirmation of any of the configurations, examples, failures, successes or cheap shots that love or religion take or make which could suggest, once and for all, that there's any semblance of reason to any of it. So far, all of the data - empirical or culled and studied from experiences far and wide - is inconclusive. The wooziness that comes of these subjects is along the lines of when cartoon characters are clocked over the head with a shovel or other blunt object, turning out a round of pound signs, bells, ampersands, birdies and the endlessly circular and universal sign for X-ray glasses. It's as much a freefall as it is a statement and even when Ohtis contextualizes the freefalling and spindly messiness into entertaining, folksy weariness and old-school, 60s AM poppiness, that which we get from the efforts is something to be enjoyed. Love produces hangovers and it makes cures as well, goes "Love and Loneliness," as Ohtis enters into a non-position that is a creatively rewarding confusion. "American Christian" features lead singer Sam Swinson approaching his "chosen" faith not as someone slowly dunking a big, fat toe into a questionably warm, frigid or lukewarm lake of uncertainty, but of someone who's already standing waist-deep in the aforementioned lake, still unsure about what the temperature is telling him, often getting split sentiments that feel like all three of the choices all at the same time. If that's not an ampersand or a pound sign, then there's no defining woozy confusion. It's an imbalance of hard evidence or guidance to hard insight built on the platform of the former that keeps Swinson's head spinning and it's what happens to that battered heart too. It's asked in "American Christian," where He's gone, where is He, and there's a light sense of betrayal felt on the part of the protagonist when he says, almost sheepishly, "I'd tell you," as an answer to an future question about his whereabouts. It's like an infuriating silence that could only get worse without some intervention. There's never any way of telling where that intervention or revelation could come from when it's love or soul that's being discussed. Ohtis has as much in common with the kind of gospel music that used to come out of Nashville, the deep-seeded feelings of Joe Cocker (just that "what would you do if I sang out of tune?/would you stand up and walk out on me" sort of idea of loyalty and anticipated frivolity of a love or a God should a fuck-up occur), visions of snakes, burning in hell (though this particular hell that Ohtis speaks of would have to be a suburb of heaven, maybe heaven's skids, which still wouldn't be all that disparaging) as it does with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It's an out-loud pontification of the serious moral inscrutables that still gives way to jitter-bugging or however it is that you prefer to dance.