Photo: Ben Zank (Astro Nautica)

Photay: Onism

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.
Astro Nautico

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.