Though we don’t always adhere to it, we started Running Downhill with the intention of making outrageous claims, judgments, statements, etc. So fuck it–forget Animal Collective, forget The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, forget any band or record that’s getting tons of hype so far in 2009. Throw out your Andrew Bird, Antony & The Johnstons, Neko Case, and whatever other bullshit records and listen up. I don’t mean to be pushy, but Odawas’ The Blue Depths is the best record of 2009 so far.
Well, maybe. There’s quite a few releases that I’ve (maybe) dug more*, but that’s not what this is about. At the very worst, it’s better than what’s being received well in these early days of aught nine. What this is about is taking the road less traveled.
Since the release of their first record in 2005, The Aether Eater, the band has since relocated twice, first to Chicago** and then eventually to Berkeley. This trip to the west coast finds Odawas completely at home for the first time ever, at least in the comfort of their sound (can’t really speak for their personal well being). The Blue Depths is a very full, warm record, slow paced and lush. Making the most out of simple but layered compositions, it’s like swimming through a sea of used 80s synthesizers, but also like swimming through the Pacific Ocean while listening to a record that sounds like swimming through a sea of used 80s synthesizers. The title, The Blue Depths, is a literal nod to Eric Serra’s soundtrack for the Luc Besson film The Big Blue, and is also apt in regards to the oceanic sound of the record, which plays like the soundtrack to lonely nights on Ocean Beach or even a David Lynch movie (substitute Michael Tapscott with Julee Cruise and you’re not far off, seriously).
Odawas have always been a landscape band, exploring time and space with sweeping, soundtrack style songs (lots of whistling), and their previous album, The Raven and the White Night, was enough of so that a friend of mine wrote a long winded blog post comparing the album to driving through the telephone wire wastelands of central Indiana. Shit was true. But Indiana no longer–and I don’t want to make their move to the coast too much of an issue, but really, The Blue Depths is nothing if not sublime, in a moonlight on the beach manner. Coincidence or not, this album seems to fit it’s release date perfectly, especially for those of us thawing out from a long Chicago winter. Nothing says goodbye to sub-freezing temperatures like an audio overdose of elegant Vangelis-esque synths (hello, springtime).
The Blue Depths is not particularly original, but timing is everything here. If it wasn’t for their more artistic and contemporary leanings, this record could be passed on and ignored as a forgettable Phil Collins album, or some other 1980s adult-pop type of thing. When garage rock, shoegaze revival, c86 revival, noise pop, and neo-psychedelia are all the rage, Odawas seem boldly defiant. Listing a “Top 10 Records To Listen to In Preparation for The Blue Depths” on their website, they list Joni Mitchell, Scott Walker, Robert Martin, Dennis Wilson, Jimmy Webb, and Vangelis as influences, and not to mention digging Robert Plant solo but fessing up to not really being down with Led Zeppelin. I mean, what the fuck? But it all makes sense, in context. I’m hesitant to call these particular influences “lame”, because that would be pretentious and jerky of me, but let’s just say that these are not exactly artists of the moment.
Odawas are definitely forging their own path with this one. Amidst a haze of fuzzy rock there has emerged a truly unique-for-the-moment album, one that embraces the synthetic sound of 1980s pop but also feels quite like an outdoors kind of record (see previously mentioned things about the beach, the ocean, etc.). An obsession with 70s singer-songwriters and composition seems to have made way for an endless reserve of studio creativity. Forget distorted guitars and you have a psychedelic and reverbed-out harmonica. Forget real drums and you have handclaps that sound like they were recorded from a satellite near Jupiter. And so on. Sure doesn’t look good on paper, and maybe that’s why I remain completely blown away. The Blue Depths is sublime, blissful at times, and while its tone and sound remain concrete and assured, its lyrically and thematically contemplative, distant, isolated, defiant, and uncertain***. Time will always need to pass before properly evaluating any piece of media or art, but right now, The Blue Depths seems to be the perfect album coming out at the perfect, and that’s more than enough. Pick this up. Seriously.
*I’ve been digging on LPs by Wavves, Kurt Vile, Pan American, Tim Hecker, Lotus Plaza, Emeralds, etc., and EP’s and 7” by Blank Dogs, Dum Dum Girls, El Jesus de Magico, Ducktails, etc.
**Wikipedia lists Odawas as notable alumnus of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, the alma matter of my current roommate and his brother Josh, who runs OH WOWEE!
***In an attempt to avoid being cliché music journalist guy, I’ve chosen to refrain from trying to tie this record in with the current political/economic spectrum, which is a total shitstorm. Of course not really avoiding it, and maybe it’s something to think about–the combination of beauty and sadness on this record might be apt for the before-the-shit-really-hits-the-fan period of the ongoing recession.
[Credit where credit’s due: all thoughts can be credited to conversations and listens had with Alex Foucre-Stimes and Jared Honn.]