Odawas: The Blue Depths

[27 May 2009]

By Rajith Savanadasa

Of the few bands that conjure up sweeping vistas and evoke a sense of limitless depth in their music, there are fewer that do so with minimal personnel. The Midwestern two-piece named Odawas are one such act. Michael Tapscott and Isaac Edwards—along with drummer/flautist Jessica Halverson on the first record, and drummer/engineer Brad Cash on the second—released The Aether Eater (2005) and Raven and the White Night (2007) on Jagjaguwar. These proffered ambitious compositions, using folksy strings and psych-rock as their methods, lulled in the listener to great affect.

On their latest release, The Blue Depths, Tapscott and Edwards operate as a two-piece. Plunging the listener into lush atmospherics with its richly layered, vintage-sounding keyboards, sparingly used guitars, and synthesizer/programming, Odawas gives credence to that oft-used aphorism “less is more.”

This shift has brought about a focus to the songwriting, while setting Odawas apart from its peers.  Tracks like “Swan Song for the Humpback Anglers” effortlessly draw a sense of vastness and wonderment. Buoyed by a subtle beat reminiscent of Violator-era Depeche Mode and Michael Tapscott’s vocals chiming in a Neil Young-esque register, the song conveys a great vulnerability and loneliness while deftly avoiding maudlin territory.  Tender songs like “Our Gentle Life Together” and “Moonlight/Twilight” are suffused with idle beauty. “The Sound of Lies” is another outstanding track, with its understated piano, judiciously placed electronics, and slowly building and gently fading percussion. 

If the previous albums fell into the trap of attempting to combine diverse ingredients and occasionally came up sounding somewhat incoherent, they’ve refrained from repeating those mistakes—essentially, Odawas have refined their methodology. The shimmering, otherworldly keyboards that float ahead find counterpoint in plangent strings plucked at prudent moments. Swaddles of synth that could easily come across sterile are warmed by Tapscott’s lilting vocals. Everything on The Blue Depths comes together without ever sounding forced or contrived.

There is nothing catchy or immediately attention-grabbing on The Blue Depths. Instead, each song reaches out in ethereal wisps, slowly wrapping the listener in its slothful cocoon. There are moments when a section would overstay its welcome (the coda of “Harmless Lovers Discourse”), or when Tapscott’s whispers are drenched in the music, however these are minor qualms in an album that is a completely immersive experience. The beautiful confluence of musical elements, the richly layered production, and gorgeous emotive vocals makes this a rewarding experience to those who are wise enough to give The Blue Depths the attention it deserves.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/93330-odawas-the-blue-depths1/