BAND: Ogikubo Station
RELEASE: We Can Pretend Like (2018)
LABEL: Asian Man Records (USA)
REVIEWER: Arthur Urquiola
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First making his name as part of Skankin’ Pickle, one of the earlier California Ska Punk bands that rose to some kind of prominence in the ’90s, Mike Park stayed prolific later in the decade with The Bruce Lee Band and The Chinkees, which put various spins on Ska Punk while further exploring lyrical themes relevant to his life as an Asian American living in the US. Aside from like-minded acts within the Ska Punk genre like Link 80 and Slapstick, Park’s label Asian Man Records also introduced the world to now-noteable Punk Rock bands like Alkaline Trio and The Lawrence Arms. Park’s newest release with Ogikubo Station however, is more in line with the solo acoustic work he began to explore and tour with in the ’00s.
Park’s cohort in Ogikubo Station, Maura Weaver was recently a part of the much-missed Mixtapes. She has a distinctive voice and has showed up on records by Punk Rock bands like PEARS and Masked Intruder as well. The story goes that a couple of years ago Park asked Weaver to sing on a song he had written. The strength of their voices working together led to further collaboration and a six-song, self-titled EP released on Asian Man last year.
From the opening of ‘I’ve Been Thinking of St Louis’ it’s clear that this time round the pair sought to flesh their ideas out as opposed to keeping with the sparseness of just the acoustics and vocal harmonies of their first ep. They’re utilising the arrangements of a full band effectively with the song, which has the feel of trucker ballad. It’s a strong start to the latest collection of material – ‘We Can Pretend Like’.
‘Take a Piece of All That’s Good’ recalls some of The Weakerthans‘ more driving moments. It’s followed by Drowning At The Watering Hole, which has a similar vibe and another killer chorus, but it adds the use of synthesisers and culminates with a soaring bridge section.
Aside from being the record’s title-track, ‘We Can Pretend Like’ is the first of the album’s tracks that are comparable to what appeared on the last ep. There’s the occasional twanging electric guitar lead, but it’s largely carried by the acoustics and a lilting vocal melody. The decision to hold back on the instrumentation, along with its placement following a pair of more energetic tracks highlights the song’s feel of closeness and subdued intimacy.
For much of ‘We Can Pretend Like’ Weaver’s vocals take centre stage in a way they rarely did in Mixtapes. She turns in a strong performance leading a band, as well as carrying more stripped-down acoustic tunes with her voice. ‘Sounds of Yesteryear’ starts with hers and Park’s vocals and a single electric guitar going for nearly a full minute before the bass and drums kick it into a darker-sounding rock song.
‘The Prettiest One’ is another sparse acoustic ballad, but it’s more upbeat and the two voices take up more of an equal and even space, as opposed to Park’s voice acting as a subharmony to Weaver’s lead.
‘Strong As You’ is a noteable point in the record – a tune with dark lyrics that deal with the loss of a parent to illness. While much of ‘We Can Pretend Like’ has dealt with topics such as alcoholism and heartbreak, ‘Strong As You’ comes at the listener more directly, chronicling a decline in health, a father’s acceptance of his fate through religious faith and his families’ struggle to deal with the situation. All in a scratch over a minute and a half.
‘Strong As You’ is also the starting point where, for the remainder of the album, Park takes a more prominent role in vocal duties. It’s a curious sequencing choice as alternating throughout between Weaver’s and Park’s vocal leads might have provided more of a balance to ‘We Can Pretend Like’. They both have likeable voices and it could perhaps just be reflective of the song order when they play live.
‘Weak Souls Walk Around Here’ kicks off with its heavier, ascending hook. The song’s got more crunch and heft than many of the other tracks. The album ends with ‘Let the World Know’ – an acoustic waltz led by a curtsying piano. While the song winds down ‘We Can Pretend Like’ after the fuller-sounding beginning and the back and forth between acoustic and full band arrangements, it’s a fitting and gentle end to the record.
At 11 songs in less than half an hour, ‘We Can Pretend Like’ is not an exhaustive collection of songs. While covering a lot of ground, exploring different ideas and expanding upon the first ep, none of the pieces outstay their welcome. For those who have followed Mike Park’s bands or his solo work, admire what he’s done with his record label, as well as his work behind pursuits like the Plea For Peace tour, or if you’ve missed hearing Maura’s voice with Mixtapes, Ogikubo Station shows that the pair are still active, creative and can still get it done with some of the strongest work in years from either of the two.