Monday, June 30, 2008
Omni - Ghosts
I'm fascinated with this album.
Not since Dead Man's Euphoria, have I encountered a disc that I find so hard to pull out of the Ripple CD player. Each spin draws me deeper and deeper into their cosmic world, sucking me in like a black hole sucking in a helpless nearby star. My mass is caving in on me with each listen, my density deepening.
In simple terms, OMNI is a three-piece experimental, progressive, space-rock outfit from Seattle. That's the easy part, unfortunately, it tells you absolutely nothing of the true nature of this band. Their bio sheet says that they're for fans of Perfect Circle, Faith No More and Depeche Mode. I disagree with all of that. (The Pope says he does hear some Faith No More, so who am I to argue?) To my ears, a better mix would be Radiohead in melody and complexity, Porcupine Tree in dynamics and musicianship, and later-era Japan, in terms of melody and atmosphere. But that still doesn't tell you what they sound like. I could say that I rank this album right up there with a new brand of progressive rock that has emerged over the last year or so; along such bands as other Ripple favorites, Braintoy and Farflung, but that probably won't help you either. As you can see, I'm stumbling here.
Perhaps the best way to sum up this captivating release is to digress a bit. Back in the eighties, there was a science magazine called OMNI, put out by Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse. As you may suspect from the publishing source, the magazine had a slightly different agenda than a rigid science mag like Scientific American or Discover. They were slick, well-produced and, while they didn't publish nude photos of spread-legged aliens, they were free to follow their own cosmic muse, unleashed to explore whichever area of science appealed to them. Deep into space, journeying through unimaginable lands, delving deep into the recesses of the mind that few would ever dare to follow. That's what I'm hearing right now.
OMNI's music is a constant contradiction of light and shadow. They are an exploration in texture. Tones of heaviness butt up against gorgeous passages of infinite light. Songs veer off in various directions, following unexpected twists and turns, sparkling with the glory of the cosmic dust shimmering in a comet's wake. That's OMNI.
Ghosts begins tempered on the ambient tones of "Der Bettler," lulling you in, falsely luring you to a safe place, until the 19 second mark and the bass kicks in. Deep and heavy, foreboding in its tone. Suddenly you don't feel so safe anymore. The atmosphere darkens as bassist/singer Chris Cullman's voice lilts overhead, "Say, say it's not too late." If that passage doesn't send goosebumps up your flesh, then I doubt you're human. Then, without warning, the song fuses into "Secret to My Success," shattering the calm with the dissonance of a distorted guitar chord, immediately launching into the full on muscular prog riff, bass and drums digging in. Chris's voice is so perfect, launching between smooth and inviting, maintaining all the high notes, then rough and growling with menace, that it's shocking to learn that he wasn't always the vocalist for the band's previous incarnations. I can imagine no other voice adding the texture that this music deserves.
David Green brings on spasms of distorted guitar to start "End Game," then launches off into swirling cosmic tones as the song leaves the earthbound atmosphere. In each song, his tone is unique, universal in its reach. Will Andrews drumming is remarkable throughout, effortlessly leaping through complex time changes at the tap of a cymbal, dropping in fills in places I didn't think a fill could ever be placed. And we're not talking of standard Ringo fills here. No, Will's fills (Will's fills?) are as deeply complex as the music he propels. As a unit, OMNI is incredibly tight, each note exact and precise without superfluous showboating and soloing. These guys allow the music to breathe. They understand the power of silence, when a moment of quiet can be far more powerful than the loudest scream.
It's too much to try and describe the majestic beauty of each song. The deep menace of "Demon Haunted World," the atmospheric floating of "Janus," the shimmering excellence of "Mother Night," the ethereal ambiance of "Out with a Whimper," or the symphonic splendor of "Dead Sky." Suffice it to say, Ghosts is an album of remarkable depth and scope. This is an aural journey, a transportation through dimensional worlds of sound and melody, full of unexpected twists, sudden turns, time changes from neighboring star systems, swirls of sound and layers of atmosphere. Moments of metallic muscle fused with ambient beauty.
Never before have I so much wanted to use the word texture to describe an artist's work, but that sums it up for me. This is an album of infinite texture, an album so layered in sound, I just want to reach out and touch it, feel the C chords wrapping around me, cocooning me, carrying me away on the tones of an upright bass. Maybe Penthouse could take a photo of that.
In the end, I think the boys can sum up their sound better than I ever could. Omni, as a prefix, means "all" or "fully encompassing." Yep. That just about does it.