Oshima Brothers could have taken the safe path for their second album and stuck to the acoustic, folk-rooted sound of their well-received, self-titled debut. Instead, Sean and Jamie Oshima conceived a more ambitious, more expansive project that reflects the brothers’ wide-ranging artistic interests. On Dark Nights Golden Days (due April 1, 2022), the brothers have crafted a richly layered, genre-splicing sound that is at once retro and metro, spacious and intimate, lush and graceful. It is a set of music that invites people to dance in grocery stores as well as get lost in the wilderness.
Dark Nights Golden Days very much reflects the Portland, ME-based duo’s DIY approach. Sean and Jamie wrote and sang all the songs and played nearly all the instruments, and Jamie also produced, recorded, and mixed the album. The brothers also make all their own videos, and video plays a vital role in their plan for Dark Nights. This hands-on creative process comes naturally to the brothers, who have been making music together since they were kids. “I think our biggest strength is being brothers,” asserts Sean. Preceding the album’s opening track, “Burning Earth,” is a ten-second recording of them as children counting in a song.
The album’s 17 tracks showcase the duo’s strengths, individually and collectively, along with their unique collaborative style. Singer/songwriter Sean pens soulful tunes that mix playful spirits with emotional sincerity, and Jamie uses different instruments, loops, and other sonic textures to construct something fresh and familiar. An electronic beat shakes up a quiet acoustic ballad. A hooky pop melody gets contorted by a noisy guitar. A plucked fiddle supplies an R&B groove. “Some songs will have hundreds of tracks and others just the vocals and a guitar,” Jamie reveals. “Our intention is to make music that feels good to us.”
Dark Nights Golden Days pairs songs from the duo’s Dark EP and Golden EP with four new tunes and three short instrumentals. One new tune, “Put Your Phone Away,” is the by-product of the Oshimas’ music-making alchemy. Sean presented a seed of the song to Jamie, who tried out several beats until unearthing an abandoned instrumental track on an old hard-drive. Matching the old music with Sean’s lyrics and melody pulled the song perfectly. The other new songs also underscore the album’s sound and lyric interests. The carefree “Last Minute Lover” addresses communication and connection – themes that weave throughout Dark Nights. The inventively arranged “Flowers On The Moon” marries bossa nova guitar, jazzy keys, and a touch of strings to create a laidback ode to love. The fun and funky “Disco Down The Aisle,” celebrates the simple pleasures of dancing (a favorite pastime of the brothers) while also reminding listeners to appreciate the little things in life.
Oshima Brothers purposely intermingled tracks from the two EPs with the new songs and instrumentals. Their vision always was to release these songs as a full-length album that flows cohesively throughout. The strings at the end of “Cadence,” for instance, trail off into “Love Is Tall.” The instrumentals serve too as transitional interludes. Similarly, the concern for our planet’s endangered eco-system Sean conveys, in a subdued but pointed manner, on the opening track, “Burning Earth,” sets up a darker context for the remaining songs, which are filled with joyful references to nature (rivers and coasts, mountain tops and cliff climbing, wildflowers and wilderness) that the brothers enjoyed growing up in the wilds of Maine.
The track sequencing also is significant because the brothers have done a video for every song on the album. Fitting together like chapters of a book, the videos create a cinematic companion to the Dark Nights Golden Days’ audio experience. “I really can’t believe how epic this film is,” shares Sean. Jamie, who began making videos as a kid, says “the creative process doesn’t just entail lyrics, music and recording. For me, the final step is getting to turn a song into a visual story.” The brothers expect the film to come out this spring following the release of Dark Nights Golden Days.
Jamie and Sean pleasantly resist the rock cliché of brothers who feud and fight. While the two admit they don’t always see eye-to-eye, their creative partnership is overwhelmingly positive – from the wonderful way their voices harmonize and their overlapping musical taste to having someone who has had your back for your entire life. “It’s every musician’s dream to work with a brilliant and multifaceted as Jamie, he makes my job easy,” Sean states.
Music has always been a central part of the brothers’ lives. Their parents performed folk songs and encouraged their sons to make music too. The brief recording that opens Dark Nights was done on a cassette deck their parents gave Sean and Jamie when they were young. Sean jokes that their band started when younger brother Jamie was born, and he is not far off. Jamie picked up a guitar when he was six and, by age 10, declared he was going to be a musician forever. Jamie’s early attraction to music led him to learn to play several instruments and produce music. A self-described introvert, Jamie also did all of this at home. When Sean began writing songs in his teens, they started making music together. “It was natural. Completely organic” Jamie explains. While they played live shows, it was only after they made their first album that they realized “oh, we’re a band!” “It really felt that it all came together during the process of making the album,” Sean elaborates. “We had this music to share that people could hold.”
Their first album contained a dozen folky tunes that Sean had written, so Jamie’s production focused on stripped-down, rootsy arrangements and their brotherly harmonies. Since their first full-length, however, the ever-prolific duo has put out a series of releases – several stand-alone singles (“Wild Caves,” “Online”) and two EPs (Under The Same Stars, Sunset Red) – that chart their musical growth from its Americana-leaning beginnings to their ever-evolving eclectic sound.
Jamie and Sean’s DIY approach also extends to their live performances. Although their recordings feature a trunkful of instruments, it is just the two of them playing the songs on stage. “We use everything at our disposal to bring them to life as accurately as possible,” Sean confides. “Sometimes I think that if you close your eyes at our show, you might think there are five musicians on stage.” He plays acoustic guitar and piano while handling lead vocals. Jamie, meanwhile, plays electric guitar with an octave pedal, keyboards, fiddle, and sings along while doing looping that helps to create more vocal harmonies and beats to solo off of. Jamie creatively contributes drums too by playing kick and snare with his toe and heel on the floor.
Oshima Brothers are eager to play to live crowds again and share their Dark Nights Golden Days album and film. However, they also are excited about what lays ahead. The two both love making music and recognize the power that art has to affect change. “I want to double down on who we truly are and not on what we look like to other people,” Jamie explains. “We’re diving in headfirst,” Sean adds, “and, if this ride is anything like the one we’ve had so far, it’s going to be amazing.”