Electronic duo ODESZA—aka producers Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills—have spent the years since their 2014 indie electropop album In Return using their growing reputation and pull to provide a platform for up and coming artists to get themselves heard in the form of their Foreign Family Collective initiative. Since its creation, it has helped artists such as Jai Wolf, Chet Porter, and Autolaser gain exposure through the release of one-off singles and mixes. For a band who originally started making waves through Soundcloud with tracks that would eventually make up their 2012 debut Summer’s Gone and the follow-up EP My Friends Never Die it was a way for them to use their understanding of the medium that had been critical to their success to help others. While very noble and admirable, it has also been a resounding success.
Nevertheless, the pair still has their own career to think about and, after playing numerous dance music festivals around the world, ODESZA are knuckling down to release their third album A Moment Apart. An album which sees the band continue their woozy take on late summer club anthems. The result is a highly polished, confident album which demonstrates their ability to write songs that have the power to retain the crowd in the palm of their hands.
The album starts in enigmatic fashion with a snippet from the 2011 film, Another Earth where the character played by Brit Marling relays a tale about a Russian Cosmonaut who chose to fall in love with the incessant knocking he heard in his spacecraft. It’s a compelling opening that teases you in before quickly segueing into first song proper “A Moment Apart”. Here clean, piano chords, gently plucked banjo strings, and warped, pitched vocal samples are layered together, quickly hitting fifth gear to become a dazzling, colourful EDM club tune. The duo demonstrate their astute understanding of the dance music crowd as they drop back down to neutral and allow simple piano chords to tick over before the crackle of crisp percussion sees the track move back through the gears. It’s a warm, sunny tune perfect for simply celebrating life itself.
“Higher Ground” is a bold, chart friendly slice of EDM pop. Opening with slightly scuffed percussion and swells of bright, airy keyboards and layers of organic instrumentation such as woodwind, strings and piano, the song provides the perfect platform for Naomi Wild’s effortlessly vivid vocal turn. Again, it’s a flawless summer anthem and one in which you can almost see the warm summer haze emanating from every shimmering synth line. “Boy” takes things even higher still as celestial synths swirl before a dub bassline adds a little swagger. The duo show off their ability to gradually build and tease as they flirt with the inevitable drop before it comes. As on the majority of songs that make up the first half of the album, it’s done with such precision and skill that it feels justified and earned.
The tempo drops slightly on, “Line of Sight” which is coated in a modern pop sheen with dreamy, soothing vocals provided by Australians Mansionair and an incessant vocal hook from Portland based WYNNE. After repeated listens it slowly reveals itself to be a solid, woozy, summer ballad with a slight, melancholic edge. As with a lot of the material on the first half of the record both “Line of Sight” and “Late Night”, strike a successful balance between organic instrumentation and polished, synthpop. The latter opens with a distorted guitar line that gives it a bit of cool menace before becoming a bouncy late night club tune replete with shimmering guitar lines.
After a fairly intense opening to the album, “Across the Room”, featuring the sweet, soulful vocals of Leon Bridges provides a little respite. Thankfully, the band allows Bridge’s retro-soul voice to take center stage as they layer up an intricate yet unintrusive backing. It’s an inspired pairing as it comes across as heartfelt and full of emotional pull, something that is often missing from contemporary EDM pop albums.
The second half of the album does have its highlights but does begin to sag under the weight of the sheer number of tracks and the recycling of ideas. The Regina Spector EDM ballad, “Just a Memory” lacks a memorable hook although the sumptuous, swooping strings that close the song show the band is willing to experiment. Kelsey Bulkin manages to add some charisma to “Divide” but unfortunately she is ill served by a fairly mundane backing that sadly sounds like a tired retread of what has come before. That said, at times they do manage to strike gold in unexpected ways. “Meridian” really shouldn’t work as it features Native American-esque singing and pitched vocal samples but somehow they manage to weave it all together to become an upbeat and catchy, enormous dance tune.
The undoubted highlight of the second half of A Moment Apart is the exceptional closer, “Corners of the Earth”. A deceptively simple song that manages to match and then surpass the grandiose synthpop ideas attempted by Coldplay on recent albums. It slowly unfurls as the majestic and reflective vocals of Australian singer songwriter RY X are given the space to soar.
ODESZA have created an energetic and slick EDM album that offers something new and original in a very crowded scene. However, by cramming so many songs onto the album, the quality inevitably begins to dip and later songs stick too rigidly to a formula that served earlier songs more effectively. When the duo hits their stride, they show a natural ability to write tight, late summer floor fillers, with a number of tunes set to pack out dance festivals for years to come.
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