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Om 15

Celebrating 15 Years of Om Records

(Om; US: 21 Jul 2009; UK: 10 Aug 2009)

It doesn’t seem that long since Om released a triple-disc set celebrating its tenth anniversary. That straightforward retrospective compilation came out in late 2005. But you can’t really fault the folks at Om for using a little fuzzy math. 2009 does mark the 15th year of releases for the San Francisco-based label. That’s like a century for an independent, dance music-based imprint. Over those years, Om has become a major influence on the house, nu-jazz, soul, downtempo, and pop music scenes. It has released albums by Mark Farina, Kaskade, and Andy Caldwell, among others. Though it has diversified and launched several offshoots, Om has never seemed to be spread too thinly. That sun-drenched, crisp, generally upbeat Om sound has remained at the center of it all.


This is also the case for Om 15. But, rather than churn out another compilation, which would have been redundant by nature, Om has taken a far more interesting approach. It’s put together this two-disc set of all-new, unreleased music, featuring label veterans as well as promising prospects. The entire 26-track set is separated into two halves. “Night” features the more uptempo, club-oriented tracks, while “Day” is the chilled-out, downtempo flipside. In this case, the approach isn’t a bad one at all, because what strikes you right away is the sheer diversity of sounds and styles on both discs. From the chunky funk of J-Boogie’s “Together” at the start of Disc One to the abstract, ambient techno of Christian Prommer’s “Inner Space” at the end of Disc Two, nearly every track on Om 15 carves out its own territory without going off the reservation.


Om has always been at its best when playing around the edges of more clearly-defined, non-electronica genres such as soul, jazz, and pop. That’s the case here as well. Right after “Together”, Sygaire & Defcon’s “The Latest” offers up some smooth, uptempo R&B while issuing a command to “rock the whole damn place to the sound of the drum and the bass”. That’s pretty much the idea of Disc One, and it follows through brilliantly. Are you in for some hip-hop breaks? Then here’s Daz-I-Kue & Solparlor’s slammin’ “C’mon Rock”. Is the staccato synth pulse of late-‘80s party on Ibiza more your thing? Sprit Catcher’s “Beezy Operator” will do the trick. Throbbing Detroit-influenced house and techno are Nacho Marco’s “Move You” and Fish Go Deep’s dreamy “No Applause”. Three are disco numbers as well, with Smokin’ Mirrors’ sexy “Set It Off” the highlight, cowbell included! Amidst all the highlights, several less dynamic numbers are lackluster by comparison. In all, though, Disc One serves as one of Om’s best-ever compilations.


That’s not to say Disc Two is an afterthought. Far from it. Some of Om’s more laid back releases have a tendency of slipping into pleasant but insubstantial blandness. The 14 tracks here, however, continue to explore meaningful sounds and textures while providing a nice counterpoint to the thumping first disc. Idan K & the Movement of Rhythm employs the breathy, soulful vocals of Melanie Hitchcock on the dubby reggae number “Like a Tree”. Eighty Mile Beach, one of Om’s first signings, returns to the label with the stoned-out folk-pop of “Las Jacarandas”. Delicate, shimmering soul is bountiful as well. Fans of the Roots will be pleased to know that ?uestlove’s sister, Donn T, provides one of the set’s highlight with her sublime “Kisses”. Atjazz’s “Please You” takes the same head-in-the-clouds atmosphere and adds a techno rhythm.


On Disc Two, the juxtaposition of different styles can jar a bit more than it does on Disc One. For example, the dense, abstract techno of Alland Byallo’s “Head First Omega” is followed by the acoustic blues of Jade Alexis’s “Microphone Hands”. Frankie Flowerz’ disco-soul “Groove on 98” gives way to the panoramic dreampop of Belle Fast Radio’s “Vacation”. Stylistically, the tracks don’t jive, but a little jarring isn’t a bad thing. Here, the quality is such that the effect is like being given a carefully-assembled yet eclectic mixtape.


Om’s past, and the legacy created by it, is already well-documented. A great idea whose execution lives up to its billing, Om 15 shows the label is looking to the future, and that future sounds fresh.

Rating:

John Bergstrom has been writing various reviews and features for PopMatters since 2004. He has been a music fanatic at least since he and a couple friends put together The Rock Group Dictionary in third grade (although he now admits that giving Pat Benatar the title of "first good female rocker" was probably a mistake). He has done freelance writing for Trouser Pressonline, Milwaukee's Shepherd Express, and the late Milk magazine and website. He currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and two kids, both of whom are very good dancers.


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