In 2017, Ogikubo Station came out of nowhere and released their self-titled debut which wound up being my favorite EP of the whole year. The minimalist duo, comprised of Mike Park of the legendary Asian Man Records and Maura Weaver of now-on-hiatus pop-punk superheroes Mixtapes, joined forces to craft six harmony-laden, mostly acoustic tracks that were equal parts playfully and politically charged. It very much felt like two old friends making music together purely for the art of it. It felt so fresh. I like to think that maybe the tag-team worked out better than they thought it would because now here in the latter stages of summer 2018, they’ve returned with a full-length album entitled We Can Pretend Like. The friendship and the songs are even stronger than before.
Right off the bat, this record sounds bigger and that’s simply because it is. They introduce a full backing band to about half of the songs, including the opening three. “Take A Piece Of All That’s Good” discusses both figuratively and literally tearing down borders by piecing together all of life’s special things and spreading a joyous, loving community. This quickly becomes an overarching theme. Immediately following is “Drowning At The Watering Hole,” which attempts to tackle this country’s never-ending spiral of alcoholism. Beneath a bright, 80s-inspired, synth-pop keyboard track is a portrait of a dulled workforce that spends all their money on alcohol to numb their bitterness toward strangers, families, and missed opportunities. Of course, it ends with Weaver reminding the listener that she’s “on your side.”
The title track, “We Can Pretend Like / Standing Still,” is most familiar to the Ogikubo Station EP so far. It’s an acoustic song that seems to be about relinquishing the anxieties that keep us from taking actions toward happiness, which is emphasized by the line “when you can’t let go, it’ll eat you whole.” The accompanying music video is also a treat. Next, Weaver takes a comfortable lead on “Sounds Of Yesteryear,” a Mixtapes reminiscent jammer that explores nostalgic memories. How appropriate.
“The Prettiest One,” led by Park, has a sarcastic bite to it as it’s sung from the perspective of someone who uses and disposes of relationships to fill and control the void in their own hearts as illustrated by “will you still love me when I’m done loving you?” The twangy background riff is a nice touch. Finally, my favorite song is “Rest Before We Go To War.” The bouncy bassline and gang-chanted “hey!” really got the crowd involved and moving when I saw them open for Alkaline Trio a few weeks back. It made me smile as I sung along to “eyes on me, flaring up inside, I just wanna sleep ten minutes more, rest before we go to war.” It’s another feel-at-home, you’re-not-alone, anthem about pushing through anxiety.
Death and dealing with loss is hardly a new topic expressed through music, but “Strong As You” addresses it in a very unique and touching way. It’s a story of someone’s father dying of cancer and how he takes comfort that his soul is saved through his faith in Jesus. The narrator does not share that same faith. The dichotomy of the consolation in letting go and the pain of those left behind on earth is both stark and beautiful. It goes back to the idea that we’re all human and despite our differences, there is room for love.
We Can Pretend Like closes with what I think is their most thought provoking and important song to date, “Let The World Know.” In classic Ogikubo Station fashion, it’s a stripped down vocal/piano/acoustic-only number that I want to call something of a sequel to my favorite track from their EP, “I’m Not A Racist” because of its references to “did you hear him say what I think he said?”, shaking with anger, and trying not to react to horrible words spoken by strangers. However, the bulk of the lyrics and somber harmonies are almost lullaby-like. For example, “When will the papers report on happy things, instead of the constant of war and bad dreams… love and compassion without so much greed,” could sing any toddler to sleep. But it’s true and it’s sweet.
I heard that Weaver and Park dimmed down their political edge on this record, but I don’t know that I agree. It’s not like they were yelling “fuck the president, burn down the White House” before anyway. They’ve always had a more subtle approach and it carries over on this album. On the surface, you might hear this batch of songs and hesitate to call it Punk at all, especially given the members’ backgrounds, but ideologically, that’s exactly what it is. And the fact that they’re expressing it in a new and interesting way makes it more Punk Rock than any leather jacket and mohawked band to me. They cover topics of alcoholism, depression, racism, and religion, but most of all, they leave off with a message of hope. And to have hope right now is probably the most political thing you could possibly do. Hold onto that for dear life.