Luaka Bop debuted two new Geggy Tah songs ("Sweat" and "Space Heater") on mp3.com in 1998 in advance of a projected 1999 release date. Due to label-hopping (and other issues?), Geggy Tah's follow-up to the surprising breakthrough Sacred Cow arrived in stores nearly five years later. The delays were not all negative. Into the Oh is more polished than their previous two albums. It is as if the band has released their fourth or fifth album with Into the Oh. It is easy, however, to feel cheated out of more frequent music from the group. The "party album" that the band once wanted to release is still missing in action. Understanding Into the Oh requires reestablishing a relationship with Geggy Tah, much like brushing up on a foreign language before traveling abroad. The reunion is well worth the wait. Into the Oh begins with a phone message from Tommy Jordan's granddad, much like Sacred Cow. This time the band turns it into the album's musical foyer -- an entrance to a personal reflection. "I wanted to ask you a question," granddad says. "Since you are not there I can't ask the machine. So I will say 'goodnight' to the machine." Granddad, unwittingly, has left behind a postmodern update to the famous philosophical quandary: If you leave an answering machine message and no one is there to hear it, did you have a conversation with a machine? So when the first song kicks in immediately, it sounds like Jordan was sitting alone in the dark, screening his calls. "One Zero" is about love in the information age, and also the emotional pitfalls found post-breakup. The song is based on a one-two rhythm much like the binary, computer-influenced lyrics of "One Zero, Zero One." Trapped by routine, he tries to escape. The theme of Into the Oh is established early: maintaining optimism against attacks from loneliness, frustration, and alienation. Into the Oh grapples with the pain of personal growth and describes the rise from an emotional nadir. The overall mood is similar to when John Lennon followed the Paul McCartney lyric "Have to admit it's getting better" with his own "It can't get much worse." You can only understand the good by living through the bad. Into the Oh is replete with elegiac confessions "glowing blue, missing you" from "One Zero" or "I wish I could erase what I didn't do while waiting for you" from "Special Someone." But joy is the most resonant motif, even in songs dealing with regret. Tears and sweat symbolize the struggles inherent in becoming skilled in relationships, in "Sweat," a funky romp about sex. "Holly Oak Tree" sounds like the soundtrack to Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree minus the sexism. In the story, the tree gives and gives until it has allowed itself to be chopped to a stump. It is only after years -- and, arguably, too late -- that the boy appreciates the tree's gift of love. "Holly Oak Tree" is a song about romance and a world where carving your lover's initials into a tree is the ultimate sign of devotion. The ravages of time can never erase those shared moments, no matter how far away they slipped.
Lyrically, each song is at least 51 percent optimistic. Follow the subtleties all the way through Into the Oh and whiffs of pain emerge. One minute and 45 seconds into "Love Is Alone," a devilish background voice seems to cry, "help!" And the admonition "drive!" in "One Zero" is a warning to remain active, to escape from self-perpetuated, psychological traps. Moments of doubt appear so consistently throughout Into the Oh that one might describe it as the band's darkest album. Then there are moments when Tommy Jordan acknowledges cynicism, failure, and desperation. For example, in "Special Someone" the line "I am waiting for Godot where waiting is something to do" or in "Love Is Alone" the line "I feel alive again when I feel love." Into the Oh refutes doom and gloom, though the band knows it all too well. The beauty of the evocative and challenging Into the Oh is its interpretive richness. Musically, Into the Oh is Geggy Tah's most accomplished. Jordan demonstrates a vocal range only hinted at in previous efforts. His beautiful falsetto is showcased in "Special Someone" and "I Forgot" where he sounds like Aaron Neville and Bryan Ferry, respectively. Greg Kurstin puts on a clinic with his diverse turns on organ in, among others, "Holly Oak," Moog on "One Zero," and electric piano on "I'll Find My Way." Also, the addition of Pamela Stickney's theremin in songs like "Love Is Alone" and "Holly Oak" leaves a moody, haunting aftertaste. Geggy Tah was largely a duo in Grand Opening, a trio for Sacred Cow, and a collective for Into the Oh, and the diversity in instrumentation makes Into the Oh a rich experience. While not a jam band, per se, their organic mix of pop, funk, jazz, prog-rock, soul, disco, trip-hop, classical (did I mention the kitchen sink yet?), is nothing short of sublime. This accessible CD is playful and inventive with a singular purpose. A few careful listens will reveal sonic reverberations throughout Into the Oh from past Geggy Tah albums, including seeds of songs that later develop into full tracks. Trumpets from Grand Opening's "Last Word" are adapted and used as the beginning of "Space Heater." And at 2:48 into "Sweat," a voice comes in like a high organ that was first heard in "Tucked In" and there is the lyrical similarity of the line "mouth of a dog sweating, sweating." The old recording was mined and sculpted into a subtle connection between compositions. This is nothing new. "Whoever You Are," which was written when Tommy Jordan was eight years old, made its tdebu in the intro to "Go" on Grand Opening. Tommy Jordan once described his first CD as a collection of breakfast cereal variety packs. Into the Oh is an 12-course meal where each taste and aroma compliments the whole experience. While not an acquired taste, Geggy Tah is a feast for sophisticated pallets, satisfying and memorable. Fear not old fans, Geggy Tah still occupies the overlooked left-field section of your local record store. Into the Oh replicates the band's affection for discovery and high energy. But wonderfully, it is a less disorienting trip. The complexities of their sonic collages used to obscure the fact that Geggy Tah's songs are often perfect pop masterpieces. On this new album, the melodies are catchy, the lyrics memorable, and the grooves infectious. Critics had accused previous Geggy Tah albums of being too eclectic, too unfocused. Into the Oh finds them covering less ground, latching onto the individual theme of love, and presenting their most cohesive (and best) album to date. Into the Oh is fresh and, yet, instantly familiar.