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Highway from hell 

Beyond a real-life nightmare, oh my god manages to put its long, painful suffering in the rear-view mirror

Two years ago, a drunk driver swerved into the wrong lane of a highway and hit head-on the van carrying the band oh my god. Helicopters and ambulances were called to the scene to rush the Chicago alt-pop musicians to the hospital.

More than six months of physical therapy were required to repair broken legs and hands, the band's tour had to be canceled, and the release of the album Fools Want Noise was delayed for a year.

Then, in 2008, singer Billy O'Neill and his wife began to split up, heading toward separation and divorce, while organist Ig learned his wife had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

But rather than stay away from music during their recovery from the accident and while dealing with the painful relationship issues, Ig and O'Neill headed instead for their sanctuary — the studio.

"If we had put aside writing songs and going into the studio and making records and working as artists, it would have been tougher," Ig says. "It was definitely a different process and circumstance than we've had in the past. But we needed that time."

The results of the duo's collaboration can be found on The Night Undoes the Work of the Day, the new OMG album slated for release on Sept. 29.

Ig says not to read all the songs as pure autobiography. But even so, the delicate, spare piano ballad "My Juliet" finds O'Neill addressing his demons, his marital failures and his pleas for forgiveness.

"I don't think he'd tell you he's the easiest guy in the world to be in a husband-and wife-team," says Ig. "But he has a lot of love for his soon-to-be-ex-missus, and he has a lot of respect for her. "

O'Neill's heartbreaking ballad is counterbalanced by the gorgeous pop of "Baby, Dream," a song about hoping for the beginning of a new relationship.

That kind of variety and duality pervades the rest of the album's aching ballads, prog-tinged rockers and bouncy pop — some optimistic, some melancholy, all exquisitely produced.

The band will debut the new material with a tour that began in Chicago, goes west through September, then heads east in October.

Getting South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri out of the way in early fall was a hard-learned lesson in scheduling, with the duo having previously been caught in a pre-Halloween blizzard on the Plains and forced to creep along down icy highways between shows.

To a large degree, touring is a labor of love for OMG and especially Ig, who underwrites the band's expenses out of his pocket and equally splits the profits from the shows. He's able to do so because he writes for a music collector's magazine and can work on the road, as long as he has his reference books and can find an Internet connection once in a while.

"I was always an English major and a music guy," he explains. "This is how that pays off, I guess. I can afford to do it, and then those guys can make some money. Otherwise, it could get really discouraging."

scene@csindy.com

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