The first time you held a prism in your hand, you were probably confused. It looks like a messed up piece of glass. But when the light catches it just right—magic.
So much of what is considered both “new” and “improved” are more often minor tweaks that simply let in a bit more light. Take Odesza, for instance. They are not reinventing the wheel musically—the deep beats and pitched-up samples serving as the group’s calling card are very much a la mode—but their unique take on the pop-electronic genre, the ways in which they seem to bend the sunbeams, makes for an altogether enlightening experience.
In Return, out on Counter Records, is the latest full-length release from Harrison Mills (aka CatacombKid) and Clayton Knight (aka BeachesBeaches). Mills and Knight form a duo that has torn up tour circuits and lit up venues big and small since 2012’s Summer’s Gone and 2013’s My Friend’s Never Die. On their latest, the tandem sounds lush and full—deeper drums, richer bass and more polished production, which altogether make for more entrancing songs.
In Return opens by airdropping the listener into a steamy jungle of tribal drums, snappy synths and a warbling, pitched-up vocal line. It’s a slick and quick intro, just breaking the two-minute mark, that effortlessly evaporates amid Odesza’s carefully crafted atmosphere.
While the group clearly has some tricks up its collective sleeves, they perhaps shine brightest when paired with guest vocalists. Catchy beats turn into full-fledged songs that propel the album from pleasant background ambience to a carefully curated work deserving of your attention. “Say My Name” is a glossy number featuring Zyra, who returns later on the woozy standout, “It’s Only.” The track builds slowly over a sparse beat before an emotional breakthrough of a chorus. “It’s only water/It’s only fire/It’s only love,” Zyra sings. “It’s only slaughter. We’re only liars. It’s only blood,” she concludes. Then the drums kicks in again, culminating what is not the only memorable moment here, but one of many on a uniformly terrific record.
If there’s one complaint to voice, it’s that some of the beats blend together, sacrificing identity for overdone cohesion. But this feels like a cop-out. Monet’s studies of the Rouen Cathedral kind of fade into each other if you stare at them long enough, and no one gives him shit about repeatedly painting the same building.
Overall, Odesza has thread the needle perfectly between electronica and contemporary pop music, sidling up and perhaps surpassing peers like CHVRCHES and Purity Ring. With a squadron of excellent guest vocalists, the duo’s shimmery beats are crystallized into legitimate, reserved bangers that only seem to get better with repeat listens. Close your eyes and enjoy the light show.
4 out of 5
You can purchase In Return on Amazon.