Where Oso Oso’s previous efforts shared thematic ties—a fictional town, the quest for contentment—the closest thing to a unifying concept for Sore Thumb is the creation of the album itself. The record is filled with glances behind the music—count-offs, studio banter, a dusty room tone. Oso Oso have often felt like a band created in a lab for the O.C. soundtrack, layering Beach Boys harmonies over a perfected emo formula of drop-tuned guitars and stadium-sized choruses. There’s still plenty of that here—“Nothing to Do” sounds like a power-pop fever dream—but it’s even more moving to hear the songs that feel rushed, private, incomplete. It’s the same quiet vulnerability that made Basking in the Glow’s “One Sick Plan” such a standout, packing the same emotional weight as their larger than life songs with a more humble setup.
Knowing that these songs were likely meant to be reworked before their release makes the record seem contoured by imperfections: The drums, played by Lilitri, are loose, and his voice occasionally cracks on the high notes. But these flaws underscore the band’s irrepressible radiance, as if they can’t help but stumble into hooks and harmonies. Sore Thumb is Oso Oso when no one’s watching, still casually sincere and effortlessly earnest. It seems intentional that “All Love,” a bleary-eyed acoustic soliloquy about an LSD trip, is followed immediately by the muscular wallop of “Fly on the Wall”—it’s impossible to separate their adrenaline highs from their soft, stoned introversion.
Oso Oso’s outlook is, generally speaking, bro with a heart of gold, and the more adventurous lyrics flesh out that universe. The winding verses of “Pensacola” find our protagonist staring down a gin and soda in Florida’s panhandle. There’s the alcoholic priest on “Father Tracy,” preaching salvation between sips from his flask; there’s the drug dealer on “Computer Exploder,” who Lilitri addresses with the highest possible title of dude-endearment: “My friend.” Some moments feel like inside jokes, like the jingle-ready exuberance of “Nothing Says Love Like Hydration.” Others feel like sparse outlines for love letters—facile rhymes (“bad”, “mad”, “dad”) on ”Because I Want To” might have been reworked in a second round of edits—but even those songs feel inspired in their simplicity. Lilitri doesn’t embellish his words, he builds towering epics in his own vocabulary: “Some days this year, man, they feel never-ender,” he sings on “Pensacola,” a moment of bong-hit wisdom that’s hard to shake.
A de facto farewell to Maloney, “Tav World” is both the goofy vinyl-only closer about smoking weed and a strange kind of hymn. It might seem exaggerated to find transcendence in a record of ostensible demos, but it’s fitting for a band who professes love with a lyric as conversational as “I mean if you want, we can just stay here,” from 2017’s The Yunahon Mixtape. Oso Oso venerates friendship, and on Sore Thumb, they lighten up and dig deeper, waxing existential about the vital importance of hanging out. As a pseudo-music documentary, this is the story of two unassuming guys in their 20s, hashing out complicated feelings about the world, and it’s both intense and familiar. After all, isn’t one of the lessons of Peter Jackson’s Get Back that the Beatles were just homies? When Maloney died, Lilitri shared a long and heartfelt tribute to his late creative partner. “I wish I could go back to the times where I felt depressed and lonely and asked you to chill and you drove for hours to chill for days no questions asked,” he wrote. In the church of Oso Oso, chilling with your friends is a sacrament.