The Oh Hellos, a brother and sister duo of independent folk musicians based in southern Texas, just released their latest album, titled Zephyrus. A short and sweet seven track album, the duo unveiled the last part of a four album series befitting of the four seasons of the ever-shifting cardinal winds.
Notos, released in December 2017, is the first installment of the ongoing series, named for the ancient Greco-Roman god of the south wind, who brought storms in the summer. Musically, the record draws from the siblings’ memories of summers spent exploring the Pacific Northwest with their grandparents; and also their experiences with the frequent threat of hurricanes where they grew up. Thematically, the series considers the question: “where did our ideas come from?” Notos recounts a time when the duo weren’t even aware there was a question to ask, and reflects on the backfire effect we experience when confronted with new information for the first time.
Eurus opened the floodgates of ideas for The Oh Hellos. As part two in the series, after wrestling with their ideas, it ultimately lead to a fuller understanding of the world around them (and leave you with more empathy than you started with); while equally leaving them with the feeling of being alienated from the communities they used to identify with. These feelings are embodied in the second installment; released in early 2018, and interrogated their personal beliefs as they continued to grow. The duo states this about their second part of the series: “As Eurus was the wind most closely associated with autumn, the record seeks to capture the feelings of dark woods, dry branches, dead leaves, and wondering who had migrated — you, or your flock?”
Boreas, the third part of the series, released this September, befits the northern wind, ushering in the harsh frosts of a lonely winter. The Oh Hellos had this to say about it: “The songs in this third installment evoke images of snow-blanketed darkness, candlelight behind cupped hands, and a vast night sky ribboned with stars and auroras. As we wrote these songs, we found ourselves confronted with the ways we’ve personally and communally reflected the character of this wind — how we often avoid discomfort, even at the expense of others, until we are left cold, hard, and unfeeling. In this record, we ask the winter to instead kindle us into something warmer and softer than who we’ve been.”
Representing the final cardinal wind in The Oh Hellos’s latest project, Zephyrus is the album filled with the gentle warmth of spring that “summons up a new year of growth rooted in the fertile ashes of all the structures that keep us isolated and unfeeling — the kind of growth we can see in ourselves, if we can muster the courage to be vulnerable,” the duo explains. “The arrangements mirror and embrace this shift, rising up like tender leaves breaking through concrete and cascading down like mountain rivers surging with the first thaw of the season. It’s been a long year; thanks for listening” (1).
Starting the album off, “Rio Grande,” is a pastoral folk track giving you the spring feeling of escaping into the newborn spring. The magical vocals of Maggie Heath take you onto a venture into a world of mustard greens, basket weaving, rushing rivers, small saplings of ideas blooming, and reaching for the first warm feeling of the sun after a long winter of storm.
Blending us into the next track with strings, “Holding on Where I am Able,” lures us further into the dream. Chimes and electric guitar fade to black.
Transitioning us with a new sound of electric guitar, “Theseus” begins with Tyler Heath introducing us into the beautiful blend of sound. The title alludes to one of the most famous Greek heroes and founder-king of Athens, Theseus, who was born from Poseidon and dwelt on the earth as a mortal man.
The track discusses how seeking out a better world, or discovering peace or tranquility, is a process that moves like a river, rather than something that you find once and are able to capture and cage. Peace is a process, a moving melody of pain and experience, and something that can’t be seen as constant or stable. “Ain’t nothing comes easy/no nothing comes quick/It’s gonna hurt like hell to become well,” the duo harmonizes. The way to peace is something that always changes, rather than something that is owned.
The album’s title track, “Zephyrus,” begins with a slow tempo, folk guitar, and dreamy vocals of Maggie as she lures us into the song, spinning webs of storytelling with simple, yet powerful lyrics.
“What do you find within the lines of/Distant suns/And their systems/Where I come up empty?” Maggie sings. Broken up like stanzas in a Walt Whitman poem, each word holds a heavy weight in the gut to show us that physical substance cannot satisfy us. Wholeness and satisfaction can only be found within us, discovering the beauty of the world around us and within us. “Whether by accident or fortune/You and I/We are matter/And it matters.”
Zephyrus is the Greek god of the west wind, associated with spring, while Boreas is the Greek god of the north wind, associated with winter. This line is a reference to this album and the one before it, and how Zephyrus was released after Boreas.
Another interlude track, “Murmurations/Reading the Augury” transitions us into the next song with electric guitar and strings, slowly building up in tension before halting.
“Soap,” one of the singles teased before the album’s release, is fast-paced, upbeat, and winds up the mood into a giddy dance of spring. After a cold winter, the burst of a new season and growth with a renewed energy unlike anything else throughout the year; the instrumental elements in this track embody this beautifully.
Lyrically, the song discusses that even though some are stuck in their ways, “That oil and water don’t mix/They’re polar opposites/With a molecular rift you can’t fix,” as Tyler sings, but as the song continues, with a little bit of work, you can get oil and water to intermix. The line discussing “polar” is a references their chemical properties– water is a molecule that is polar, and oils are generally made of non-polar molecules. And I point this out because it fits with the song’s title, “Soap.” Soap allows both water and oil to mix, and both are needed to produce soap. It reaffirms the message that in putting the work in (making the soap), you mend what has hurt you and stop yourself from hurting others (mixing oil and water) (2).
Concluding us to not only the album, but the entire four part series of the cardinal winds, “Rounds” discusses the series in its entirety, almost apologizing for its length, but expressing a contentment, as well. “Am I still speaking?/Yeah, I’m long in the wind/I’ll go on and on and on again/If my chest don’t cave in,” the duo sings.
If you enjoyed this album like I did, please check out the previous three albums in this series. The Oh Hellos has never failed to inspire and fill me with a world of feeling, and give me a reason to write, and to feel deeply.
Stream Zephyrus on Spotify: