Odawas - The Blue Depths Review


If you're to believe the band's blog, the Odawas duo of Michael Tapscott and Isaac Edwards has no patience for Led Zeppelin. Already, I'm at odds with them. More curiously, though, is that they also don't care for Neil Young jams. As unforgivable a thing to say as the Zeppelin comment is, I can at least believe them. But to shrug at Neil Young flies in the very face of The Blue Depths. If Neil Young had hired Tangerine Dream or Vangelis to support him instead of Crazy Horse, it's quite possible that he could have ended up with an album like this one. So, not only am I at odds with them, but I also can't seem to trust them. Tsk, tsk, Odawas.


But this is not music to get you riled up, so my fury slowly dissipated to embers. The Blue Depths rolls out of the speakers like a slumbering fog, one far too disinterested to ever appear disheveled and threatening. Notes flicker out like street lamp lights through the mist. And everything is dense, in a way where “atmospheric” would be too obvious and “busy” too inaccurate. This is music to get lost inside, not to pluck apart for hidden meaning or insight. I suspect that many won't be flipping this on intentionally, but rather accidentally by subconscious means, to revert to a specific state of mind and for background music that will keep them interested but never distracted. It's music good for drifting towards sleep, whether watching starlight or snuggled up in bed.


Contrary to their use of electronics, though, the album buzzes with feeling and warmth. Because everything is awash in those synthesizers, you hardly even notice the appearance of guitars or strings or harmonicas or bells because they spring naturally from the lush keyboard sounds that drives everything. This might have even been considered a folk record if the organic waves were more rustic than mechanical. But such is the nature of the beast that is classification. Startlingly, all of this noise was created by two people; even when you realize how programming comes into play, the soundscapes they build brick by brick seem impossibly compact but airy for just a pair. And although a lot of it enriches subtly, some of it amazes in its audacity. The harmonica alone wails like it was borrowed from Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West.


“Swan Song of the Humpback Angler” uses an 80s synth and looping drum machine mix for faint texture; the song is carried by emotive and reverberating vocals that suggest Jim James going New Age. “The Sound of Lies” stakes its place near the record's center and uses a subdued dance beat and piano stabs to keep you from getting entirely lost. It could be found somewhere between a John Hughes score and Digital Ash in a Digtal Urn. “Harmless Lover's Discourse” begins with a slow and gentle strum amid a billowy drone that suggests a big ballad, but blessedly never goes for an obvious hook or sweeping chorus. Standing out for escaping the frequent Vangelis comparison, you elsewhere notice a fluttering synth on “A Boy in the Yard,” a shapeless distorted guitar on “Secrets of the Fall,” and the back-up harmonies that get flattened by digital interference about three minutes in during “The Case of the Great Irish Elk.”


Despite these unexpected moments, though, The Blue Depths' chief triumph is uniting all of these divergent sounds and instruments into a coalescent whole. No matter the direction they choose, everything is united by those bedrock whirls, a combo of space-piercing synth flames and velvet waves over a blue-grey sea. The digital effects are rarely ostentatious; it's difficult at times to understand what Tapscott is singing, but his voice remains the musical anchor. On first listen, you may mourn the absence of memorably catchy melodies, but Odawas likely scoffs at such efforts. As the title suggests, they prefer epic and resonant images of lush music passing them by, instead of easily digestible nuggets to fill up your iPod.


With romanticism trumping the more absurd electronic skills, Odawas can't be condemned for plasticity. It's not an easy album to grasp, and even after multiple listens, I find that the words often either ring hollow or lend the experience a certain pretentious affectation that the music otherwise narrowly avoids. But with shimmering guitars, redolent harmonicas and lovely string arrangements complementing the sheets of synth echoes, the entire experience remains vibrant. This may not be an album you'll actively seek out on busier days, but it would be tough not to get lost in its balmy spell when you decide to let it unfurl.


It's not replacing my Zeppelin LPs, though.


"The Blue Depths" is on sale February 17, 2009 from Jagjaguwar.

Matt Medlock


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