In January, a 24-year-old Long Island native named Jade Lilitri posted a new album, The Yunahon Mixtape, on Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download. Recording under the band name Oso Oso — a moniker that has no literal meaning, Lilitri just likes the pattern the letters make — he had virtually no expectations for Yunahon. After making some well-regarded emo albums with his first band, State Lines, and then veering into pop-punk on the first two Oso Oso releases, Lilitri couldn’t find a label to put out his latest LP, which leaned more toward a classic ’00s indie sound in the vein of Death Cab For Cutie, Built to Spill, Weezer, and Bleed American-era Jimmy Eat World.
Frustrated by the lack of industry interest, Lilitri resigned himself to never earning back the money he had spent recording The Yunahon Mixtape with his friends Aaron Masih, who plays drums — Lilitri plays everything else — and Billy Mannino, who produced, engineered and mixed the album. It was then that Masih suggested calling the album a “mixtape” and putting it on Bandcamp with minimal fanfare.
“It just felt like it was at a point where I was like, are you doing this to get it out to a bigger audience? Because, if that’s the situation, it doesn’t look like your chances are too good judging by the interest of labels,” Lilitri said when I spoke with him. He decided to “just give it to the people who really care about it.”
Against all odds, The Yunahon Mixtape has become a sleeper hit on Bandcamp, with Lilitri’s insistently tuneful songwriting turning listeners into proselytizers on social media. When I discovered it, The Yunahon Mixtape quickly became one of my favorite albums of early 2017. For a certain kind of indie fan, the shimmering guitars and melancholy melodies will be pure ear candy. The call and response chorus of “Reindeer Games,” the start-stop riff of “The Walk,” the creamy backing vocals on “Shoes (The Sneaker Song)” — The Yunahon Mixtape positively overflows with catchy, car-stereo-designed hooks. It’s hard to imagine a more likable ’00s-style indie album coming out in 2017.
Oso Oso should get another boost this month with a planned vinyl release of The Yunahon Mixtape. Similar to how Car Seat Headrest built a following on Bandcamp before becoming one of 2016’s breakout indie acts, Oso Oso has the potential — and certainly the songs — to follow the same path this year.