When I first listened to Souvenir, the new scorcher from Atlanta post-punkers Omni, two things leaped to mind. First, it becomes clear in hindsight that what they lacked all along was a female presence and that Izzy Glaudini of Automatic should continue doing duets with Philip Frobos. Secondly, the slightly sleeker sound (with a new producer) suits them very well. We certainly don’t want to go all Rick Rubin on Omni, but it turns out a somewhat polished production brings out the emotion in this heretofore stoic band.
It’s not that the deadpan vocals are entirely gone, however, or that Omni’s style has suddenly become wildly disco. Omni’s tightly wound sensibility, with the metronomic beats and precise guitar lines, is still there in full force. But there are understated flourishes of humor and melody in Frobos’ voice. This allows Omni to become a little more accessible, not so emotionally removed while maintaining their largely stolid stance and taut structure.
Indeed, Omni are the most robotic-sounding group this side of early Interpol. The drums are mechanical yet fluid. Guitarist Frankie Broyles’ sharp stabs at the chords alternate with his mildly embellished sketches. This intricate interplay between staccato movements and restrained floridity, complementing Frobos’ dispassionate delivery, creates a distinctive character for the band, even as it recalls the cerebral stylings of Television and Wire‘s angular compositions. But Wire were slightly more danceable, and Television veered toward an almost progressive-punk persona. Omni have rhythm, to be sure, but just enough, while progressive rock inclinations do not manifest at all. Their songs are all under four minutes, and most are under three.
It’s been intriguing seeing Omni’s development through the years and the evolution of Frobos and Broyles, who were previously in Atlanta art-punk bands Carnivores and Balkans, respectively. I was sad when both bands moved on but happy to see these two musicians form Omni together (after Broyle’s brief sojourn in Deerhunter, during which he seemed overwhelmed with leader Bradford Cox’s endearing but challenging eccentricities).
With Omni, there is more mathematical intensity than with either Carnivores or Balkans. Balkans was structured in its way, yet full of raggedy noise, while Carnivores was downright feral. Omni takes all of this primitive energy and channels it into a meticulous approach that is akin to what solving a geometry problem might sound like in the aural sphere. Even the delicately whimsical keyboard tinkerings and subtle piano plinkings pierce through the static work in service toward a certain symmetry, if you will.
Some of Omni’s videos showcase this geometrical approach very well, but they also have campy aspects, vividly illustrating a hipster humor element. The creepy shopping channel vibe of the record highlight “Plastic Pyramid” playfully showcases the song’s dynamism. The vintage “Videodrome” feel of “Exacto”, with a plunging, floating TV portraying the group as they play, is disorienting fun and gives the song shape and depth.
But what about that aforementioned female presence – Izzy Glaudini and her alternately droll and mellifluous voice, which appears on three tracks? It’s something that I would not have anticipated would work so well within Omni’s compact confines, but that’s perhaps my own binary biases regarding aligning gender with certain brands of sound. It turns out Omni need that element to round out their identity fully. Carnivores prominently featured a female vocalist, and Omni can, too, or at the very least, include more of Glaudini in the future.
After all, Omni sometimes suffer from what I call “homogeneity syndrome”; the songs are not terribly dissimilar. While it’s evident that Omni are a project wanting to emphasize sonic rigor and exude an aloof air, the human mind and heart seem to need shifting textures and tempos in music, as well as vocal modulations. Changing it up in modest ways, from production values to singing styles, will benefit Omni without sacrificing their personality.
As previously mentioned, “Plastic Pyramid” is a high point and seems to be about the cheap commodification of sacred things, but is also about love. It is sometimes hard to tell with Omni lyrics; they are deliberately cryptic to fit within the musical milieu. There is an absurdist angle to titles such as “Granite Kiss” and “F1” and lyrics such as “Come here and cut me out / There’s no dotted line / Pull on the leash like a side piece” (“Exacto”), but also hidden hints toward actual significance. It’s fun to try to demystify the meanings. Either way, Omni don’t intend to take themselves too seriously.
With the subdued evolution on their new record and a treasured female feature, Omni continue to carve out a distinct identity (with an exacto knife) and shine among the glut of post-punk revivalist bands. That’s a Souvenir worth savoring, for sure.