Intergenerational Pain and Liberation on Oh, Rose’s “While My Father Sleeps”

“While My Father Sleeps” is a cathartic celebration of resilience and the will to a continued existence after trauma.

Image: While My Father Sleeps | Oh, Rose (bandcamp.com)

Olivia Rose wants to make one thing clear — While My Father Sleeps is not a record about grief. Released two years after the death of front person Rose’s mother, the album is named for the book Rose’s mother wrote during her lifetime but never published. It is in many ways a continuation of that project for Rose, as the band writes on Bandcamp, “It is Rose’s life story, told under the banner of a story her mother was never able to finish.” It is as much a project of excavation, then, as it is one of self-revelation, a way for Rose to answer her own pain with that of her mother. Across the ten tracks on the band’s thrilling 2019 sophomore album, While My Father Sleeps, Oh, Rose shows what it means to claim personal suffering through the excavation of intergenerational pain.

This suffering is transformed into vocals that unfurl into screams and addictive, fuzzy guitar hooks on the album’s ferocious opener, “25, Alive.” The only song written after the death of Rose’s mother, the song is about the pure emotional fury of young adulthood — and how that is compounded by loss. Rose sings, “Am I strong enough to tell my truth? 25, I am alive, and I am angry,” confronting the displaced anger left by her mother’s passing. She goes on to sing, “Can I keep on running from you? 25, my mama died ’cause of anger,” laying bare her mother’s wounds and reckoning with those wounds as her own.

The entire album deals in some sense with residual pain, as the band splices open the wounds of childhood in a liberating turn toward self-acceptance. This theme is present on the album’s spacious second track, “Believe It,” where Rose screams, “It goes both ways” over chic synth and sings with striking candor, “You made me feel powerless.” A plea to a parent or possibly a lover, this song reveals Oh, Rose’s willingness to confront a fraught past, to do the necessary work of exploring one’s origins. Rose wrote in a 2019 statement about the record, “I am someone who digs into beginnings to find means to an end,” and this track makes that end clear, as it is an attempt to break free from the emotional burdens of the past.

However difficult, this proves a crucial task for Rose, who deals throughout the album with the looming presence of her mother and the childhood panic and fear that follow into adulthood. The record is saturated throughout with a sense of dread, as Rose always seems to be looking over her shoulder, desperate to move on. On tracks like “Baby,” Oh, Rose struggles with this sense of being held back, unable to grow up. As much as Rose seeks to be liberated from her past, she sings the coy “wah, wah” of a crying baby over melancholic guitar and admits her need to be “good enough for you.” In this same way, many of the tracks on the record teeter between liberation and attachment, the narrator torn between being autonomous and seeking approval.

While My Father Sleeps is at its best, however, when it exalts the power of the individual to be cleansed from within. Resilience rings throughout the album, as on the bright, adrenaline-infused “Easy,” an exuberant attempt to break through a stifled existence. More ambient, grungy tracks like “Phoenix” and “Water” carry tones of resurrection, as the narrator sings on “Water,” “I am water/ Only water will wash you out,” recognizing her own power to free herself. She pleads in the record’s soft rock finish, “be kind to me,” all the while showing her ability to flourish in the midst of suffering.

Above all, Oh, Rose succeeds in making a record that both satisfies and liberates, unleashing itself with blaring guitars, exciting drum fills, and Rose’s inimitable vocals, the powerful contours of her voice sometimes edgy and growly, sometimes slick and delicate. Oh, Rose demonstrates their ability to shift seamlessly between two modes — joy and grief, tenderness and rage — in a record that invites listeners to dance, cry, and scream along.