Several years after Yoko Ono became prominent, she was universally despised and viciously targeted for purportedly tearing apart the Beatles. Several years after their first release, the band bearing a twisted homage to her name is doing much better. Oh No! Yoko’s Pinhead’s Paradise, the follow-up to 2011’s PAU PAU, is a self-reflective, contrasting soundtrack to a smoky apartment in Montreal, woven with dazed melodies, flighty guitars, and the sort of vulnerability that’s very hard to find. The musical finesse that went into its creation is clear: the top-to-bottom hooks stick around for days and the classic Oh No! Yoko vocals jump around the scales like they have since the band’s inception, making the style impossible to replicate. It’s exactly what we want to hear.
“Coughin’” launches the album with an unfamiliar, hazy fixation; the difference between Pinhead’s Paradise and anything that came before is immediately apparent. The shrill guitars and speeding time signatures of their earlier work is gone, replaced with a mellowed out, slow vibe. The track filled with wavy guitars and inside-your-head vocals, an oddly calm window into the band’s world, paving the way for the album to follow.
Pinhead’s Paradise strikes a balance between two simultaneous styles— frantic pop-rock and slow-moving, fixated introspection. “Hoodie” transitions from a relaxed introduction into a clever, fast-moving piece that brings back older energy while looking thematically inwards. “Dance with Me, Michael” swaps between an downtempo, obsessive chorus line and free-flowing, upbeat verses. As the track numbers tick higher, the album shifts towards the darker side. “Dorvy Days” is a reckless, self-deprecating manual to coping with life. “Feels like I’m Stepping On Raisins” is an admission of failure and confusion so deeply personal that it feels like an intrusion to be listening to it. This open discussion of weakness and fear is hard to think about, but thanks to the musical backdrop, easy to listen to. The honesty is meant to be heard.
No album is flawless all the way through, and Pinhead’s Paradise suffers from a moderate set of symptoms. Between “Do Ya Wanna” and “Pleb Job” is an unmemorable set of tracks, without enough defining moments to save them from being quickly forgotten. To add to the confusion, the album has its fair share of apparent inside jokes (“Sorry, I Already Worm” being a prime example). The nonsensical phrases are funny enough, but it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to be in on the joke, making it an uncomfortable parallel to our fourth grade lunch table. Luckily, these minor transgressions are minute in comparison to what they’ve done right here. Honesty, energy, and the sheer number of sweet tunes make up for the few flat tracks; all in all, the album’s shortcomings aren’t nearly enough to bring it down.
Pinhead’s Paradise is more mellow than anything we’ve seen before. There are times when the upbeat assault on time signatures is missed, but in losing the wild energy we gained the calm, personal introspection that defines this album. They’ve managed to hold on to the unshakeable style that characterized their first releases, without sacrificing the ability to grow as a band. It’s a showcase of everything we knew Oh No! Yoko was capable of—careening hooks, unmatchable vocals—and much more that we didn’t expect.