Dishwalla: Opaline (Immergent)

Dishwalla may not be the most innovative, but they are, much like home itself, welcoming, soothing, and familiar.

Mention the name “Dishwalla” in your circle of friends and watch the delayed flickers of recognition that follow. “Oh yeah,” someone will finally say. “They sang that one song…” “Counting Blue Cars,” you can offer helpfully. That, along with two entire albums before they fell victim to the merger of two major labels.

Now the Santa Barbara quintet are back, this time on a smaller label and with a sound that reveals their growth in the intervening years: mature, polished, personal. In writing the lyrics, vocalist J.R. Richards has pushed himself beyond the point of comfort, going so far as to isolate himself far from home for the benefit of his craft. What results is a cohesive collection of 13 songs, music which seeps into the listener’s unconscious and provides a soundtrack to this cacophonous thing called life.

Richards’ voice, at once haunting and yet rich and entirely in command, breaks through the gentle orchestral strains that begin “Opaline,” the first song on the disc of the same name. Though this isn’t the song that initially drew me in, it’s the one I find myself most often singing. “Somewhere in the Middle,” the current single, is a pleasing and melodic retelling of the end of a relationship: knowing you need out, yet reluctant to act for fear of causing pain. “Home” is as it sounds; an ode to familiarity and belonging. Ironically, it was the first thing Richards wrote on his monthlong sabbatical.

“When Morning Comes” will make you catch your breath at first listen; second time around, pay attention to the lyrics and you can’t help but be moved: “There’s so much life here/and so much pain—we forget/there’s so much life/as morning comes/and it’s real—the silence.” The morning after an accident that killed five college students, Richards drove past the site of the crash; the song represents his personal reaction to the memorial of flowers and candles, the immediate response of beauty to the seemingly senseless tragedy.

With Opaline, Dishwalla have met their challenge: to write the best songs they can, to write them honestly and play them from deep inside the soul. So listen to Opaline; share it with your circle of friends. Dishwalla may not be the most innovative, but they are, much like home itself, welcoming, soothing, and familiar.

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