Zomes Near Unison

[Near Unison; 2015]

Styles: psychedelia, PINA-influenced post-punk
Others: Lungfish, Reptile House, Silence Blossoms, H.O.W., Sus & Jakob, Terry Riley

Near Unison presents the latest chapter in the ongoing evolution of Zomes, a now-transnational duo joining Baltimore keyboardist-composer Asa Osborne with Swedish vocalist-keyboardist Hanna Olivegren. Osborne cut his teeth as the guitarist and principal architect of post-punk bands Reptile House and Lungfish; following the latter’s dormancy, he emerged with the solo work of Zomes in 2008 on a self-titled LP of home-recorded instrumental vignettes, released on Holy Mountain. Near Unison is the fifth proper Zomes LP and the second to feature Olivegren; it’s also the first on their own imprint, which shares the album’s name (the last three records were on Thrill Jockey). The 13 short pieces here volley between the low-fidelity wheel grind of the first few Zomes entries and the majestic presence heard on Time Was (Thrill Jockey, 2014), cutting a path between obstinately beguiling haze and methodical clarity.

Olivegren’s husky alto is an interesting foil for Osborne’s meditative electric organ drones; whether in Swedish, English, or providing wordless voice ululations, she recalls Lætitia Sadier and Catherine Ribeiro at their most ethereal and strange. While Zomes’ aesthetic predecessor, Lungfish, relied heavily on stamped-out lyric chants and brisk, knotty (but ultimately quite intelligible, at least for English-speakers) delivery, there was always an inherent musicality to vocalist Daniel Higgs’ approach, and words could easily stand as purely rhythmic/textural elements. Here, that effect is certainly pronounced (and moreso when the language is Swedish), as her breathy chants and sinewy, gently overlaid declarations advance and recede over canned, drifting beat-stutters and pulsing, fibrous chords. That said, she and Osborne can deliver powerful anthems and plodding, vaporized dirges that expand on the Lungfish vocabulary — “Syster” placing fuzzed, chunky angles and a lockstep drum machine rhythm against Olivegren’s willowy chants into a post-Indivisible framework. Olivegren’s vocals are a distant, ethereal chortle on the following “Se Genom Tiden,” a simple organ figure pulsing in a refracted holding pattern.

Olivegren studied improvisation and plays in the creative chamber trio Silence Blossoms; while not seemingly steeped in the jazz tradition, her use of the voice as an “original instrument,” blended with the austere conviction of two analog keyboards, gives Zomes an incredibly open feel, even within the essentially didactic landscape of taut song forms. She’s also an adept organist herself, as a number of pieces are principally organ duets to which her filigree contrasts with Osborne’s glassier marches. One thing that will be interesting to see is whether the duo edition of Zomes stretches out some of these germs. One of the most rewarding solo releases in the catalog was an EP of untitled improvisations that stretched over the 10-minute mark (Improvisations, Imminent Frequencies, 2010). Osborne and Olivegren can certainly sustain their music, and these hermetic nodes are likely able to hold when given a bit of stretching room. While one should be careful to prescribe from afar what artists may do next, undoubtedly there’s more Zomes beyond Near Unison.

Links: Zomes - Near Unison

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