I don’t think I will ever quite forget the first time I heard Appalachia. It was not my first exposure to Osi and the Jupiter, but it was definitely the moment where everything clicked. That moment specifically was “They Ride Through the Sky on Horse Drawn Chariots,” where I finally realized just how incredibly special their music could be, and just how deeply transcendent of an experience listening to it is. Even though it was only three songs, I did wonder how the next release from the duo would fare in terms of keeping that momentum going. Wonder no more: Stave provides a sturdy bridge that connects the band’s past to the bright future ahead of them.
Osi and the Jupiter is, as always, the product of multi-instrumentalists Sean Kratz and Kakophonix, the former tackling guitars, percussion, synths and the now more-than-occasional vocals and the latter handling anything requiring a bow. Stave was actually recorded all the way back about 38 years ago, in the months of May to October of 2019, which is almost fitting, as a huge theme of the album is connecting to times long forgotten, natural spirituality and a rejection of the modern. The immediately ancient and mystical sense that pervades all the band’s releases is still at the forefront of their sound, but on Stave, Kratz and Kakophonix continue the trends set out on their last release, the aforementioned EP Appalachia. While the Scandinavian aesthetics that have been a hallmark of their sound are definitely still there, there is a much greater emphasis on American folk. Steel string guitars, fiddles and Kratz’s continued exploration of vocals and lyrics that reflect deeply on the band’s home of Ohio’s Appalachian region are much more prominent, as are the deep, droning synths that, for my money, are one of the most criminally underrated aspects of the band’s sound. Stave feels like a perfect encapsulation of the band’s past and future; it is a snapshot of a band transitioning their sound and building a new sonic landscape for themselves to explore.
Stave is a gorgeous album. Of course, all Osi releases have a deep element of beauty to them, so this should come as no surprise, but I am very happy to find that the duo has kept on the path of deep, layered bases of synth and guitar and soaring string melodies. Obviously, one of the absolute stars of this album is the cello work, and Kakophonix does not disappoint. The greatest musical payoffs on Stave come at the moments when the cello takes off into the stratosphere before coming back down to a solid landing and lining everything up again. It is a testament to just how genius the songwriting on Stave is. Everything builds and grows in subtle layers, and the interplay between the two musicians has never been stronger. Somehow when they both go off in different directions it doesn’t take away from the music. There is always a moment where everything comes back together stronger than before, and nowhere is that more apparent than closer “Eihwaz.” To describe it as breathtaking would, I think, be an understatement. Reverberating synths drone and crash while delicate cello melodies soar and swirl and at once you’re taken away to a place both comforting and unfamiliar. Kratz’s voice on tracks like “Folk of the Woods” and “Mountain Shamanism” lulls and sooths without affectation, perfectly pulling and tugging like a soft wind through pine trees. And hey, there’s even a Moody Blues cover for good measure.
Stave is exactly the album I had hoped it would be. The perfect middle point between Nordlige Rúnaskog and Appalachia, it carries with it the best of everything Kratz and Kakophonix can do, and I am incredibly happy to have it in my life. This is an album that I will be coming back to pretty heavily as the weather starts to cool and I start to drift away from responsibilities and towards putting myself back in nature. And, of course, when we start to think of the best things we have heard all year, this will surely be mentioned again.