Odawas The Blue Depths

[Jagjaguwar; 2009]

Styles:  electronica
Others: M83, but also Neil Young and Band of Horses

If M83’s much-heralded (but not by TMT!) Saturdays = Youth was supposed to be a wide-eyed and youthful soundtrack to late-night adventures and adolescent indiscretions, then Odawas’ The Blue Depths is a sobering post-grad resignation, a slower-moving, more thoughtful, sad-eyed piece.

Even as it dropped the tempo, M83’s John Hughes-reverent LP painted broad Technicolor smears of synth-pop. Its melodrama manifested in thick, wet drum production and its excitement in bold colors and wide, panoramic arrangements. With The Blue Depths, Odawas — now a duo — create a much more insular sound, less last-call, more happy hour. Opener “The Case Of The Great Irish Elk” smears synth and strings across a similarly wide vista, but dips into a minor key. It’s foundational riff almost dirge-like behind Michael Tapscott’s bleary crooning — which sounds a good bit like a despondent Neil Young. “What I want I do not have,” he moans, harmonizing with a spectral version of himself.

The 1980s synthesizers stay constant, but their effect is greatly altered. Additional instruments — harmonica, strings — dirty the gauze with what feels like a dose of reality, like M83’s sparkling prom night 10 years later, when the dreams are dashed by mortgages and mouths both needing deposits.

The pairing of albums is an interesting one, to be sure. Tied together by synthesized timbers, The Blue Depths and Saturdays = Youth work as two ears in the same life. But they don’t need each other to be compelling.
Odawas’ “Swan Song For The Humpback Angler” finds Tapscott meeting Ben Bridwell’s reverbed falsetto alongside a synthesized atmosphere, melding folk melancholy with electronic haze. It’s not unlike the view of the world behind tear-filled eyes.

Even so, this isn’t a totally hopeless record. “Our Gentle Life Together” seems to find tenderness in a lasting contentment, championing a mature committed relationship over the up-and-down excitement of a bevy of new ones. “Baby, I believe in it, too/ And even if you don’t understand/ I’ll still understand,” Tapscott assures us. Here it’s calming, not depressing, as if to note that there is joy to be found in stability.

And with Odawas now settled into Chicago (after moving from Bloomington, IN) and down to its two founding members (Tapscott and arranger Isaac Edwards), stability does indeed seem a newfound virtue for the band. This is an album less about immediacy and more about subtlety. It’s not rocking in any traditional sense, but it reveals itself gradually, building in complexity with each turn. Which, I guess, is a pretty grown-up thing to do.

1. The Case Of The Great Irish Elk
2. Swan Song For The Humpback Angler
3. Our Gentle Life Together
4. The Sound Of Lies
5. Secrets Of The Fall
6. Moonlight/Twilight
7. Harmless Lover’s Discourse
8. Boy In The Yard

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