Surf goes goth
There’s not a lot of surfing going on in Ontario. When intrepid surfers do grab a wave, the muddy froth of the province’s titular Great Lake is a far cry from Maui. Fittingly, even though Toronto-based thrashers Odonis Odonis call themselves a surf-rock band, they seem to have forgotten what the ocean looks like. There’s no sunshine or California charm on their latest Better EP—by the sound of whatever beaches their screeching about, the waves are made of arsenic and the boards jagged concrete. Tell Dick Dale to duck for cover.
On their debut full length, Hollandaze, Odonis Odonis churned out jangly, stentorian shoegaze, with warped melodies buried deep in punishing walls of scuzz and feedback. But, especially in light of their latest outing, it was a pop album at its core, one as indebted to The Breeders as Black Flag. Better doesn’t try to better what the threesome did last time around. They’re still tinkering with the same recipe—serrated guitar lines, industrial throb, tar-black melodies—but they’ve changed up the measurements to produce a whole new array of flavors. When they sprinkled on the sludge on Hollandaze, Odonis Odonis has dumped the whole jar into the pot. If their first effort’s barbed wire melodies and shimmying breakdowns smacked of Frank Black the musician, Better realizes Frank Black the person down to a gnarly, cantankerous T. Gouge away far enough into Black’s psyche and somewhere deep down you’ll find some twisted sense of joy and humanist love for sunburst melody. It’s no easy task, you’ll have to plow through a whole lot of vitriol to get there. On Better, somewhere underneath all the blastbeats and broken glass, Odonis Odonis’ love for moments of collective effervescence, on the beach or in sweaty basements, shows. While the hooks are buried deep in industrial waste, they’re as visceral and memorable as ever.
Luckily, Odonis Odonis aren’t entirely hiding behind the fuzz. Existential nausea is plentiful and the grooves unrelenting. In another life, Better EP’s first two songs—“She’s a Death”‘s careening stomp and the vampire funk of the title track—could have been slapped with a DFA label and soundtracked some Gothamite goths’ mid-naughties dance party. Singer-guitarist Dean Tzenos, the mind (and musician) behind almost all of Hollandaze wanted to make Better more collaborative, and his bandmates influence is smeared all over the EP’s 15-minue run time—Tzenos sounds small, fittingly deadpan, against the colossal waves of noise Jarod Gibson and Denholm Wale provide, screaming just to get a word in edgewise. When the occasional intelligible lyric tumbles out of the fray, it’s been to hell and back, chewed up and spit out, inevitably fixated on death and the ugly ever after. But Odonis Odonis haven’t lost that uncanny ability to hide melodic pearls in the nastiness—“Intelligence” packs buzzy, Pixies-esque leads into a claustrophobic, two-chord slam dance, and “Flight Risk” ends in a menacing, spacey guitar workout.
Every up has its down, and very daze opens up into a moment of clarity, however unpleasant. Better EP is certainly a comedown record, the angry, misanthropic flipside to Hollandaze‘s stoned sputter. Odonis Odonis are just trying to get some of the rage out. For diehards, surfing is all about venting, losing track of daily worries, angers, and the little hangnails of everyday life. Sometimes, a blistering punk album will also do just that.