Thaylobleu’s roaring Oscars & Jellyfish is officially its first record, but it makes the kind of statement that can only come with experience. After years of playing around D.C. and refining its sound, this group of local hip-hop veterans’ rock debut feels taut. While the foundation of the music is presented as ’70s and ’80s metal—with a Guns N’ Roses reference to boot—the speed and oscillating textures evoke D.C. punk and funk.
But don’t worry, hip-hop’s influence is abundant on Oscars & Jellyfish. “I got jelly-stained pajamas/My words like a pack of half-trained piranhas,” lead singer Terence Nicholson rhymes in the album’s funky third track “Rose in the Briar.” Rhyming in rock music is so rare these days that this opening line serves as a kind of announcement that Thaylobleu isn’t your typical rock band.
The mixture of influences occasionally falters—some guitar solos feel goofy and the Scarface “my little friend” reference could’ve been left on the edit room floor—but it ultimately succeeds in giving urgency and credence to the most powerful aspect of the record: Nicholson’s no-holds-barred lyrics.
It starts with the album’s title: a clear allusion to what’s to come. Oscars, named after an aggressive and territorial South American fish, are songs that cut straight to the point and don’t mess around. Conversely, jellyfish ebb and flow, not revealing their sting until you’ve gotten too close. And that’s kind of what Oscars & Jellyfish is: Listening through the album’s 10 tracks, some more melodic ones act as interludes—almost meditation breaks—that let the bite from the oscars sink in. These breaks allow for needed reflection, as though the structure of the album itself acts as a teaching tool for thoughtful listening.
Nicholson’s delivery is aggressive and percussive so he doesn’t mince words, but his lyrics come from a deeply personal place: They’re often reflections of certain experiences, the lessons from which Nicholson learned the hard way. On “Locked,” a case of mistaken identity leads to police abuse; “Too Much” tells the story of a man who starts to learn what he wants in a relationship after dating several women too wild for him; and after a berating from a bully on “Bones of Contention (the Bully song),” a “weakling” learns not to internalize insults or judgement.
But the thread of clarity weaves deeper on the second half of the album. “Get Low,” accessorized with record scratches to keep the beat, warns to “keep it under your hat” because the truth may get you in trouble. And as the record thunders on toward a raucous climax, its statement becomes clearer, up until the fiery denouement “Welcome to Anacostia.” “Welcome to my jungle,” Nicholson sings, talking directly to the gentrifiers in Anacostia, only to later let the newcomers know, “we can get along if you know your place.”
These are more than just songs. They’re fables and declarations on the importance of truth, certainty, and self-understanding. The lasting impression of Oscars & Jellyfish aren’t the dated rock tropes, but Thaylobleu passing its experiences onto its community with confidence and care.