PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Photay: Onism

Photo: Ben Zank (Astro Nautica)

Photay's full-length debut is is jam-packed with dense instrumentals that take inspiration from all over the world and all over the musical spectrum.



Label: Astro Nautico
Release Date: 2017-08-11

A Google search of the word “Onism” will immediately bring up The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a melancholic Tumblr blog and video series comprised of invented words and portmanteaus to describe emotional states that don’t otherwise have words. Onism, as defined by the site’s author, is the feeling of frustration and disappointment that comes with knowing that there are hundreds of things one can’t see experience because we can only exist in one place and one time and have such a limited amount of time. It is a sort of FOMO taken to the ultimate extreme. This kind of feeling could certainly lead to an intense, opposing reaction; That is to cram as much experience into one’s life, at every moment, as humanly possible. It should come as no surprise that Onism, the album, is jam-packed with dense instrumentals that take inspiration from all over the world and all over the musical spectrum.

The album is meant to portray an acknowledgment of that concept. That there is only so much one has experienced or will ever experience. It addresses the questions of how to make the most of life, especially in the modern world with its constant balancing act of the natural and the technological. And that answer starts with low laser sounds that almost replicate a bowed double-bass or a bassoon. And from there, the influences and ideas get more and more fluid. Latin drums mix with thrumming bass, jazzy piano chords, and deep, new-wavy synth pads. But what remains consistent is the ultimate goal of any electronic, instrumental pop-music: it’s fun to listen to.

The second track, “Inharmonious Slog", is built around of the sounds of footsteps, a nod to that distinct pleasure of having you walking pace match the rhythm of the song you’re listening to. Even before the bass line comes in full force, it can be heard faintly rolling in the background as though it’s too much fun to hold back anymore. The horns in “Balsam Massacre” are tense and thrilling and just anchor the chaos of the song. And the album’s closer “Bombogenesis” is a house-disco dream with hazy synths and deep, wide filters slowly laid over everything. You could close your eyes and see nothing but smoke and neon.

The density of the compositions emerges most thoroughly after multiple listens. The first time, it’s mostly just a fun time, but the second time, one can hear the layers more fully. This isn’t just electronic music for its own sake; there is a lot of history, research, intellectual organization, and music theory buried in these songs. “The Everyday Push” plays with time signatures, beat stresses and especially with instrumental dynamics. “Eco Friend” runs complex polyrhythms together with video game sounds and smooth saxophone in something closer to math jazz than dance music. But the aspect that prompts the use of the repeat button more than anything else is the “what instrument is that?” aspect. Is that a string bass or a bassoon? A steel drum or a marimba? A saxophone or a synth? A flute or a synth? Are these things all just synths? More often than not the answer isn’t just one thing. Melodies are doubled and tripled; accents fade in and out too quickly to be heard. Every play seems to bring out more nuance and more layers to unravel.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.