UC Berkeley is known for many things — Nobel prize winners, giant towers and the creepiest mascot this side of the Bay to name a few. And now, thanks to the release of its first studio album, The Life of Oski, it can also be known as the only campus that, despite being a conglomeration of faculty and students rather than a single individual, is also a musical genius. The first in a string of albums set to be released, The Life of Oski seamlessly melds quiet beats and everyday soundscapes with UC Berkeley’s distinct vocals to produce a vibe unlike any other.
At 147 years, UC Berkeley is a tad older than others looking to break into the music scene. While this might have discouraged a lesser artist, UC Berkeley uses this to its advantage, drawing on its experiences as a native of the East Bay to pepper its album with nostalgic tones. The tactic is clear in the album’s opener, “307 Foot,” an introspective and, at times, haunting piece that gives the listener a glance into the clockwork machinery of UC Berkeley’s mind. Overlaid with the peals of carillon bells and a gong chime every minute, the medley jumps between motifs of both today and yesteryear — for example, a Taylor Swift excerpt quickly followed by the chorus from “Danny Boy” — echoing the range of pop culture UC Berkeley has experienced over more than a century. UC Berkeley doesn’t maintain a serious tone throughout the whole album, though. By the time the 10th track on the album, “BerkeleyTime,” rolls around, the artist pokes fun at itself with a playback of the carillon chords underneath lyrics such as, “Don’t worry, you’ve got 15 minutes until your next class / Well, five, really / But hey, Berkeley time.”
A massive tonal overhaul between tracks isn’t the only testament to the diversity of UC Berkeley’s talents. The university-turned-musician is a master sampler, melding the sounds of the city and school into each other to produce ambient, insatiable beats. Discerning listeners will be able to pick up on a wave of five consecutive police sirens, incoherent frat boy yells and Crossroads’ muted trap music in the background of “1 a.m. Thursdays.” Anyone who’s gotten the short end of the stick in their Tele-BEARS session will find the progression from blaring iPhone alarm to monotone professor lecture-voice to frantic scribbling and shuffling of papers during a too-fast slide change in “Morning Lecture” achingly familiar. The album, however, isn’t without its faults, — the insistent brush of flyers, punctuated by multiple recitations of the phrase “Hi, are you interested in — no, okay, that’s fine” becomes grating a few minutes into “Sproul.” Many of the tracks could have done without the overlay of nonstop squirrel chatter — but the effortless recreation of the everyday sounds of university life supersedes any minor flaws in The Life of Oski.
To say that there is a single best song in UC Berkeley’s inaugural album would be a grave inaccuracy. Each track offers its own take on the college experience, and each contributes to the overall sound by adding a new layer of understanding to student life. But the last two songs on The Life of Oski, “$tanfurd” and “Dead Week,” cannot go without mention. The former, a blistering diss track interspersed with roaring and the crunching of pine bark to dust underfoot, allows UC Berkeley to brandish its lyrical genius in the face of its listeners and its longtime rival across the Bay and to incorporate an excoriating guest verse from Chancellor Dirks. The latter rounds out the album with 17 minutes of dead silence, provided by a sample taken from deep within the bowels of Main Stacks. Finally, the album ends with a 32-second wail of raw existential despair and the thump of a textbook on the ground — a fitting ending that is poised to bring UC Berkeley from being the No. 1 public university to being the No. 1 musical talent in the world.
Contact Ariel Sauri at [email protected].