“Two rhythm section dudes attempting to play guitar and write songs together.” This is the self-effacing way that Grahm Robinson and Gunnar Ebeling characterize the duo that they call Mah Kee Oh. On their debut album, One Footed, this description both does and does not do them justice. Their affinity for the rhythm section is clear across 11 tracks whose voices—both human and instrumental—blend together into a subdued wall of sound, only occasionally popping out with effectively crisp emphasis.
But “attempting” doesn’t quite cut it for their music. On One Footed, Denton, Texas–based Mah Kee Oh show adeptness both with their instruments and at songwriting. Triangulating somewhere in the vast distance between Nirvana, Elliott Smith, and The Strokes, their fuzzy rock songs hit all the right marks. With the right combination of minimal melodies, simple intertwining guitar and bass lines, and dynamic drumbeats, they’ve created a filled-in debut.
There’s no need to reassure Mah Kee Oh against their inclination towards self-effacement; on One Footed they harness it as relatable and endearing material. On “Be With You,” an upbeat yet heartsick tune, in a melody that bleeds intriguingly into its next lines, they sing, “She’s so sweet but she still intimidates me / I cant find the confidence to ask her to be mine.” At the end of “Someday,” an outlier on the album with its folky acoustic picking pattern and foregrounded vocals, the singer proclaims, “And if you say / let’s go our separate ways / I’ll try not to let it get me down.” After a song filled with modest dreams to tie-dye shirts and eat ice cream with an object of affection, the quiet agreeableness of this statement is touching and sad.
Not everything is indie-rock earnestness, though. Mah Kee Oh also masters more offbeat ideas, imbuing the album with some delightfully unexpected moments. In “Running In Place,” they explore a more psychedelic sound and theme; in the all-instrumental interlude, “Beneath The Whirlpool,” they produce a more synth-driven, bubbly feel; and in the title track, a song whose distorted guitar falls on the Nirvana point of the triangle but whose muted vocals fall on the Elliott Smith one, they create a dark and off-kilter space to get lost in. Here and elsewhere on One Footed, the effacement is directed toward the listener, who is erased in the noise.
Beneath all the deprecation (self and otherwise), it’s possible to detect an optimistic sentiment, an acknowledgement that even if nothing is perfect now, the best is yet to come. On the opener, “Chasing the Sun,” an urgent-feeling, bass and drum–driven road trip song, they sing, “every day a new experience awaits,” while “Someday,” as its title and refrain suggests, looks forward dreamily. After listening to their successful debut, I can’t help but echo that idea: Something good is definitely coming for Mah Kee Oh.