On OHMME’s new album, Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart definitively prove that Chicago girls do it better. The pair, who gained acclaim for their self-titled debut album that stood as a testament to the fine work they’ve become known for in the Chicago experimental scene, churn out a product that’s filled with noises and sounds that are sure to impress and confound listeners. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the duo’s talent is the breadth of their expertise. OHMME’s inception is partly thanks to Cunningham attending a high school production of Little Shop of Horrors that Stewart starred in. The tracks on Ohmme and Parts are a far cry from “Suddenly Seymour”, a testament to to the versatility of the pair.
It’s easy to get distracted by the mesmerizing vocals on Parts. Their harmonies flit from straightforward and energetic on opening track “Icon” to dark and dissonant on “Liquor Cabinet”. Comparisons could easily be drawn to femme-duo greats, from the careful vocal arrangements of Lucius to the punky grittiness of Girlpool. However, it’s the guitarwork that takes center stage on Parts. Both artists are classically trained instrumentalists in other mediums, it’s no wonder that they’re so adept at the instrument. Riffs are all at once sultry and sweet, grating and dark all within one album. Often, these contrasting multitudes exist within one song.
When the vocals and instrumentation meld, there’s no stopping OHMME, spelling standout tracks aplenty. The closing song “Walk With Me” showcases their lyrical ability, with the melancholy refrain, “Watch all your steps / Every dog has its bite / No one is sicker than you / It used to be me, and it used to be you / What did you want me to do? / It’s alright.” The song evokes Chicago contemporaries Campdogzz who, on their most recent release, incorporated Southwestern, cowboy-esque vibes.
On the other hand, “Water” is a beautiful example of the journey OHMME can take listeners on within the span of a few moments. The song begins with a spare, sinister, electric pulsating rhythm paired with Cunningham and Sima’s signature tandem vocals. As the two sing, “Why is there water in my eye?”, drums collapse in the background. Then, out of nowhere, the track transitions into a pitter-patter of vocal arpeggios, building into an orchestrated watercolor that weeps, and bleeds, and morphs, and grows. Clocking in at just two minutes and 30 seconds, the short song is a sonic journey complete with twists, turns, and a satisfying end.
Finally, transcendent track, “Sentient Beings”, begins with a moseying, screechy violin. From there, we get plucky vocals and soft violin. Then, the track opens up with more careful strings, humming, and a momentous build that blossoms into one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard this year. As they sing, “I was lost in your garden,” we get lost in the music.
Altogether, Parts is stimulating, surprising, and utterly inventive. The duo demands attention from listeners, requiring mental acrobatics as they flit from one idea to another. Tones shift, compositions change, and there is barely a moment to rest. Though exciting, this ever-changing element is also where Parts fails. The tracks contain little that succinctly threads them together. Each song is built of delicate, yet differing, layers.
For example, title track “Parts” is built on a stilted, galloping guitar through-line, with shadowy effects that throw a wrench in the rhythm partway through. Then, just as soon as it’s started, the track ends. This general structure—established stasis with a surprising interruption—is duplicated throughout the record. Though this yields lots of opportunities for experimentation, the tracks sometimes feel like carefully constructed staircases that lead nowhere. That said, though the experimentation doesn’t always necessarily work, the album always attempts—perpetually reaching for a new sound. The haphazardness is artful, and therefore forgivable.
More than anything, OHMME is yet another testament to the trend that Chicago remains an epicenter of exciting, enticing music. Between the two of them, Cunningham and Stewart’s sonic resume is impressive, boasting support for Chance the Rapper, Whitney, Twin Peaks, and Tweedy—all homegrown acts. Even more impressive, the album was recorded and self-produced in Cunningham’s home studio, Fox Hall. The pair are veritable DIY-deities in the city. Parts proves that they’re of capable spreading beyond the Midwest, blessing the world beyond with their angelic vocals and iconic guitar.