Updated: Feb 2
Favorite Track: "Know That I Know" Least Favorite Track: "Anymore"
Born out of the New England Conservatory of Music in 2004, four college musicians came together to create a band dedicated to upbeat and joyful music that simultaneously incorporates their various musical influences into a genre-melding listening experience. Acclaimed jazz vocalist Rachael Price, guitarist and trumpeter Mike Olson, upright bassist Bridget Kearney, and drummer Mike Calabrese named the group Lake Street Dive, after an infamous Minneapolis street packed full of dive bars. Their love for jazz, soul, funk, folk, and country led to the creation of their first three full-length, independently produced projects. However, it wasn’t until 2012’s Fun Machine EP that the group received worldwide attention, greatly due to the imaginative covers of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” and the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” From that point forward, it was game on, setting out on tours and releasing more incredible projects such as 2014’s Bad Self Portraits and 2016’s Side Pony. 2018’s Free Yourself Up was definitely their strongest project to date, with “Good Kisser” becoming an instant classic in the realm of soul-pop. Moreover, the quartet added pianist and vocalist Akie Bermiss, who had been a long time contributor on tours and various Lake Street Dive records. At this point in their history, the collective had established themselves as a top-notch band with one of the most underrated lead vocalists in the industry, and to celebrate the expansion of the band as well as the parting of guitarist Mike Olson, Lake Street Dive took to the studio again. 2021’s Obviously is an unabashed yacht rock/soul pop culmination that is easy-on-the-ears, but positively infectious on the body, mind, and soul.
“Obviously, we’re at the beginning of something” is the first lyric on the entire record, sung over spacey synth noodling, wavy rhodes chords, and some cymbal rolls during the opening track “Hypotheticals.” This line indirectly welcomes listeners to Obviously and hints of what’s to come on the rest of the album, teasing both classic Lake Street Dive sounds and some new ideas never tried on previous projects. After a rubato intro, Rachael Price sings “I've been, playing out a lot of hypotheticals in my mind,” imagining the possibilities of being with a specific person and foreshadowing how great coming together in love would be. A nice synth solo takes place on the track as well, showcasing the new side of Lake Street Dive brought to the table by Akie Bermiss. The way he phrases the solo isn’t overly complex, instead focusing on keeping the phrasing similar to the way Price sings the melody, showing just how good of an addition to the group he really is. The following song “Hush Money” has a nice New Orleans dirty swing to it, combined with elements of country blues and funk. Moreover, the lyrics here are really a criticism of politicians, who “tell the people and the papers what they oughta believe,” but lie, “all while you sayin’ that you saved the planet.” Rachael Price and the rest of Lake Street Dive seem clued in on the corruption, and remind the politicians “if you want me to be quiet, you won’t get it for free/So let me get that hush money.” It’s lyricism like this that sets Obviously apart from previous Lake Street Dive projects, and while that could be due to the various issues arising in the past two years, it feels that the collective has taken a new approach to writing lyrics; a more serious undertone, if you will.
Take the song “Being A Woman.” This is the clearest example of yacht rock, sounding like a cut from a Paul Simon or Christopher Cross project. Upright bass, marimba chords, shakers, trumpet, and warm guitar strumming set the perfect mood for Price to speak on female empowerment. The bridge is easily the most potent lyrical section, “No lunch breaks, no minimum wage, yeah/Most of the time, I don't even get paid/I spend my lifetime slaving away for you/And if I complain, they'll blame my feelings/But look at the view from my glass ceiling.” The infusion of sharp socio-political topics is a very common thing in music, and Lake Street Dive seems to tackle points that are not covered frequently. “Making Do” is a solemn apology and message to future generations over climate change and other environmental problems. The instrumental is kept pretty minimal, with a repetitive, 1/8th note comping pattern remaining pretty stagnant throughout the entire song, only switching to a more intense, lively tone at the bridge to accentuate how the younger generation have “paid the cost.” Price asks some pretty heavy questions in the song, such as “What do I say to my baby girl?/Leaving her with half a world/That we coulda done a lot?” Environmental justice is one of the harder topics to talk about through popular music, but Lake Street Dive seems pretty driven in their goal to compose on serious matters while still keeping it groovy and charming.
One of the higher points on Obviously is on the third track “Same Old News,” which is a vocal duet between Rachael Price and Akie Bermiss. Bridget Kearney starts the song with some upbeat bass tones, and the rest of Lake Street Dive enters with a relatively warm and inviting attitude. Price begins the first verse, where she informs her partner that she wants to try a relationship regardless of the “gossip” or the “thousand prying eyes.” Bermiss enters, and it’s the first time we hear a lead voice that isn’t Price, which is a welcomed surprise. Not to mention, his voice has a certain dark richness to it, and with an impressive range, it makes for a very good blend with Price’s monumentally soulful voice. The two link up on the chorus singing in unison about “The same old news,” then taking turns between to keep the cutesy banter going. After the second chorus, Mike Olson takes a killing trumpet solo, which has a Wah-Wah effect pedal on it, exuding a sort of buoyant tonality to it that fits well with the blend and balance of the two singers. Lake Street Dive also decides to look at the other side of love with “Lackluster Lover.” As the title suggests, Price sings about a boring partner who doesn’t contribute anything into the relationship, and how at this point, “there’s no passion to discover.” Words on the lover’s doomed relationship are crooned over a thick drum and bass backbeat, reminiscent of artists like Stevie Wonder, Prince, or Erykah Badu. The chorus adds in layers of guitars and synths, but the outro is where the song becomes seriously emotionally brutal. Price goes into her upper register, asking “Won’t you set me free from these chains of unfeeling apathy?” before stating she doesn’t care to continue. Furthermore, she shows off her jazz vocalist chops, presenting some loose scatting to take “Lackluster Lover” home.
“Nobody’s Stopping You Know” is Obviously’s slow, soulful ballad, and is arguably the most emotional on the tracklist. Piano and strings accompany Rachael Price on the first verse, where she sings to a woman who feels societal pressure to dress, act, and strive to be successful. “Take off your makeup and take off your shoes/Trade in a dress for something oversized/And let your mind go wherever you choose,” assuring her that it is okay to drop her guard and live carefree every now and then. Drums, guitar, and synths are incorporated after the band all together sing “Nobody’s stopping you now,” getting the point across that she deserves to live free. The track is very grandiose in arrangement and production, inflicting a heavy emotion on women who may feel stressed to be something more than they are. Another highlight on the album is the Doobie Brothers-esque soul joint that is “Know That I Know.” This is the most lyrically fun piece across Obviously, signified from phrases in the first verse like “You’re Ferris Bueller and I’m your day off” and “You’re my happy clouds and I’m Bob Ross.” However, the lyrics in the chorus are so infectious, greatly due to the way Price phrases the questions “Don't ya know that I know that you know that I know that you want me?/And don't I know that you know that I know that you know that I want you?” This is all sung over James Brown styled guitar playing, a groovy bassline, tight horn lines, congas, and hi-hat plagued drum patterns. Furthermore, there is just something about a key change that makes a song that much more likable, and this is a clear example. The outro is taken a half step up, and Lake Street Dive responds with even more upbeat playing, finally releasing at a spacious end where Mike Olson noodles on the trumpet, Price slyly riffs, Akie Bermiss deliciously harmonizes chords, and Mike Calabrese plays some beautiful wind chimes and cymbal play.
If Obviously wanted to continue presenting various stylistic influences, the last two songs accomplish that as well. “Feels Like the Last Time” is hard to pin, but there is a very prominent folk and gospel influence. The instrumental doesn’t stray too far from beatboxing, harmonized vocals, a ukulele, melodica, and bass, which makes for an interesting, yet enticing listening experience. This is one of the more incredible Lake Street Dive full member moments, such as the way the entire band harmonizes “Last time,” or how the other four members sing acapella “aah’s” and “Wah Ooh’s” behind Price’s lead vocals. The next and final song builds on that collective Lake Street Dive sound, as the whole band sings a harmonious “Ooh” on the opening of “Sarah.” Each member has an impressive range and is well taught in acapella harmonization. Price sings about a woman named Sarah, who is Mike Calabrese’s ex-girlfriend who, based on the lyrics, was pretty lost in her ways in terms of their relationship. This can be seen as a Taylor Swift “Never ever ever getting back together” moment, as Lake Street Dive paints the sunken picture, wrapped up with “So this is the one time that I give you the news/Not a song and dance, not a second chance/Sarah, nеver one more.” In all honesty, the savagery of the lyrics is lost in the gorgeous singing that Lake Street Dive presents, which is an impressive feat and shows just how good of musicians they really are.
Obviously is without a doubt one of Lake Street Dive’s most artistic projects to date. The songs, while groovy and easy-on-the-ears, have so much depth and beauty to them lyrically, which is a dangerous combo for anyone looking to insult Lake Street Dive’s musicality. Each track is scripted flawlessly, and performed to that same degree. For as long as original members Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson, and Mike Calabrese have been together, it goes without saying that the music and love for one another has brought them together to craft an album full of good vibes, unconditional love, and kindhearted wake-up-calls. Moreover, the inclusion of Akie Bermiss has pushed them farther than ever before, and as the band members say goodbye to Olson, it is nice to know that Lake Street Dive will be able to push through the change in personnel to continue bringing us positive and upbeat music; something seriously in demand for the future ahead.