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Om - Advaitic Songs

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Artist: Om

Album: Advaitic Songs

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jul. 16, 2012




When Om appeared in 2003, it seemed a radical proposition. Bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius decided their respective instruments were enough. It would be just bass and drums, no guitars needed. The three ensuing albums were engrossing, if puzzling listens. Cisnerosís chanted lines were cryptic, almost impenetrable. The rhythms were loose, more free jazz swing than metal head-nod. Hakius departed in 2008, to be replaced by Emil Amos. The sound got tighter, more refined and song-like, but the template for 2009ís God is Good remained as before: bass, drums and incantatory vocals.

Now, with Advaitic Songs, itís hard to say why we ever thought the bass and drum concept was so radical. Itís not that the lean, muscular grooves that made the previous records so satisfying are gone. Itís not that the duo are repeating themselves. Far from it, in fact. With piano, female vocals, strings and extra percussion, this is the fullest, most expansive Om album to date. No, itís that Advaitic Songs makes us realize that Om has always been about something we already understand very well: the riff.

The riff, that timeless form of ecstatic repetition, informs everything the duo does. Itís there in the way Cisneros and Amos criss-cross their lines into hypnotic interplay. Itís in the simple, chant-like form the songs take, the way the duo never seem to take their gaze off some invisible destination on the horizon. Itís even there in Cisnerosís obtuse lyrics. The diction is strange, the syntax garbled and the references eclectic to the point of obscurity, but Cisneros delivers them with such a solemn tone that itís hard not to get caught up in the flow, even if you have no idea what heís getting at.

The riff so saturates Omís music that the recordís more baroque touches, like the piano on ďAddisĒ or the melancholy strings on ďGethsemane,Ē melt effortlessly into the duoís locked-in patterns. The passage that keys the whole album, however, is a bit of sampled religious chant in the opening of ďSinai.Ē We donít know where itís from (sounds like Arabic) or what it says, but the effect is clear. We can recognize the attempt to transcend daily concerns, to reach some higher mental plane no matter the language through emphatic repeating of verse and sound, no matter the vehicle itís delivered in. So what was radical about Om was never the newness of their sound. It was how old they sound, how familiar, how they keep reaching back to something weíve forgotten.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Om

Variations on a Theme

Conference of the Birds

Pilgrimage

God is Good

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View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

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