Dear Wormwood
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Literary Lyrics & True Folk Sounds

Song reviewed by:

Texas sibling duo the Oh Hello’s has achieved a sound similar to that of Sufjan Stephens. In October of 2016, The Oh Hello’s released the song Dear Wormwood which relies strongly on literary references as well as folky banjo and guitar work. The Duo reach a high point in the song that Stephens seems to avoid, which differentiates their sound from his. Lyrically, the song holds the same reflective quality of Stephens’ work. There is something soothing about this melancholy sound and the warm revelation that is reached as the song reaches its peak.

Having read the Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, it is easy to recognise references to the character, Wormwood in the Oh Hello’s recent piece. The Screwtape Letters is the impactful story of two demons that set out to create ruin in the lives of human beings. The pair become involved in the details of a particular man’s life, intending to lead him astray in every possible way. Despite their efforts, the man succeeds in his life and ultimately prospers. In Dear Wormwood, the Oh Hello’s describe the demon as having been present since the beginning of the speaker’s life. “I have always known you, you have always been there in my mind” precedes the triumphant refusal to be part of Wormwood’s plans.

Although it is a complex metaphor, it is also relatable. Everyone experiences a force of some kind that could bring them to ruin. This song follows the struggle and the resultant celebration of winning over such a force, and this is an experience that resonates with human life. If not the lyrics, the emotional journey of the song is resonant with a vast range of experiences.

Traditionally, folk music tells a story and it is exciting to see this element maintained in modern or indie folk music. The lyrical journey begins at childhood and progresses to a mature, self-aware struggle, concluding with the victory over a longstanding fight. Literary references in music make for a depth and a beautiful crossover between different art forms. This is executed with an expert use of the banjo and guitar and subtle harmonies that run throughout the song. Dear Wormwood concludes with a choir repeating the chorus phrase, “I know who you are now”, alluding to the wisdom that identifying one’s demons is what puts them to death.

It is not often that musical depth is complemented with a similar wealth of lyrical creativity. Dear Wormwood has me both wanting to re-read the Screwtape Letters and to buy the Oh Hello’s recent album. In addition, it has sparked some reflection of my own life and this is a quality that is invaluable in any art form.