OSLO is the solo project of TJ Horansky, former guitarist and backing vocalist for Chicago-based pop punk band Sleep On It. His debut album Great Places is fittingly titled, as there is much here to suggest that his career is headed for just that.
To call Great Places a solo record would be an understatement—it’s an album born of isolation, as Horansky used his time in COVID-19 quarantine to learn how to mix, engineer and produce his own music. The results are impressive. The production is gorgeous, with crisp acoustic guitars and atmospheric synth drones undergirding the intimate vocals. Vocalist Molly Coleman joins Horansky on a couple of tracks, resulting in some of album’s most beautiful harmonies.
While most of the songs here follow a solo acoustic format, the album’s lead single Loma Prieta breaks away from that, introducing an electrified 90’s alt-rock feel that recalls bands like Semisonic and Fountains of Wayne. On the chorus, Horansky personifies various forms of extreme weather, declaring, “I’m a hurricane/Ruined everything in my way…I’m a goddamn earthquake tearing down the things that I’ve made.” Maudlin as these lyrics read on paper, the way TJ sings them (along with the upbeat music) makes the song feel more like a brazen anthem than a sad sack lament, which is the key to its success. It’s as solid a pop rock track as they come, the kind you’ll want to put on repeat.
Lyrically, Horansky spends the record expressing his inner anxieties (“My worry is a rocking chair/I move back and forth but don’t get anywhere”), wavering self-confidence (“I can’t swim in these waves that I’ve made/I can’t be what you need to be safe”), and regrets over lost or unrequited love (“If you were here, then I’d be home”).
The album closer, Celebrate, raises a bittersweet New Year’s toast, acknowledging the missteps and losses of the past, and the likelihood of more to come, but also a glimmer of hope for the possibility of improvement. TJ’s understated vocal delivery conveys the lyrics with credible sincerity and avoids the mawkish cliches of the ‘sensitive sad boy’ genre. In a word, it’s sweet but not syrupy.
The word “understated” is actually a good descriptor for the album as a whole. I do wish it had a little more meat on the bones than its scant 29 minute run time—a few of the tracks end prematurely, and a couple more Loma Prieta-like bangers would’ve fleshed things out nicely. That said, the album is a very pleasant listen—the perfect soundtrack to a mellow rainy day. It’s a solid opening statement by an artist just beginning his journey to Great Places.