The Oh Hellos have been in hibernation for quite some time. Boreas was announced with little fanfare, and it was released only weeks later. It’s not a conventional marketing strategy, though surprise album drops by Future of Forestry and Taylor Swift have surely shown that promotion isn’t everything.
The EP comes as the third installment in their four-winds series, following Euros and Notos. While the pair were released within months of each other, it’s been two and a half years of waiting for this piece of the story. And it is not a stretch to call this collection of releases a story – each has seven tracks at about 20 minutes long, and there are repeating motifs that help the EPs feel seamless.
Notos was a picture of summer nights, watching fireflies dance while stargazing. Euros had the sensation of a harvest celebration. Boreas, then, is wintery – though not in the way you might expect. It is not a temporary winter as much as it is a frozen kingdom, perhaps a Nordic settlement or the northern reaches of Canada. The cold is a way of life. It is not a Hallmark Christmas; this is a picture of people hardened to the elements who’ve learned to cope with the challenges of the insurmountable forces of nature, and they face life with boldness. Boreas packs a punch far more than it twinkles. It conjures images of hunting wolves far more than it does of building snowmen.
“A Kindling, of Sorts” feels like a warcry. “Lapis Lazuli” is rambunctious and wild. Even more tender moments like the title track still have a sense of wilderness and adventure at play.
The lyrics here play into this feeling as well – “Glowing” is particularly noteworthy.
but I bet
when you can’t find an edge
by a map half-written
it could feel like the end
to have to keep going
It’s an obvious picture of being lost and alone in the wild, unsure of how things will play out.
The Heath siblings again trade off on vocal responsibilities and their performances are as strong as ever (though I’m typically partial toward songs were Tyler takes lead). There’s a certain grit to these songs and a bit of tongue-and-cheek delivery. The wordplay is intricate and verbose as expected.
Boreas is far from a gentle, stereotypical winter-themed release. It has been tested by negative-degree temperatures. It has been refined in a viking furnace. It sees the Heaths adorned in makeshift bear pelt armor ready for battle. The Oh Hellos may have been in hibernation, but they’ve woken up roaring.