Turn It Up, Turn It Out
Seattle electronic duo ODESZA formed back in 2012 when the pair of Western Washington University grads, Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, met and began recording together. Each had already established themselves individually in the indie-electronic music scene, with Mills performing as Catacombkid, and Knight under the name BeachesBeaches.
September 2012 saw the independent release of their first album, Summers Gone. Two of the album’s tracks, “How Did I Get Here” and “iPlayYouListen,” reached #1 on the Hype Machine Popular chart, and established the two as a force to be reckoned with in the underground electronic music scene. In 2013 they self-released the soul-inspired five-song EP My Friends Never Die.
On their new their new full-length, In Return, electro-pop’s prodigal sons have finally surfaced to the mainstream. In Return is at turns both dance and trance, and it’s also the pair’s pop-friendliest release yet. Eight of the album’s thirteen tracks feature guest vocalists, including Zyra, Jennie Potts, Moonsiren, Madelyn Grant, and Briana Marela.
The album opens with “Always This Late,” a vibrant instrumental trance epic. The beats bounce like a ball down a flight of stairs and are interlaced with rhythmic handclaps, chopstick-sounding piano licks, and interludes of sweetly strummed guitar licks. Next is the album’s danciest tune, “Say My Name,” which features electronic femme fatale Zyra. Already a hit on the dance music charts before the album even dropped, the track is pure pop with mild, mid-tempo beats. Sprinkled with sunny-sounding synths and helmed by Zyra’s sickly sweet siren song, one can’t help but be pulled in. “Say My Name” is the perfect pairing for both douchey nightclubs and high school cheerleading routines alike.
“Bloom” is hard-thumping and slow-moving with samples that include typewriters, wind chimes, and steel drums, with vocals that sound like a duet between a dying chipmunk and a Japanese opera singer. An odd standout is the track “Kusanagi.” The song opens with the distant sound of children’s voices at play, and continues to develop and shimmer like a summer morning with soft synths, children’s choir-like vocals, and wind chimes making yet another appearance, resulting in a trance-infused lullaby. Zyra returns again on the mellow-ballad “It’s Only.” Slow, sappy, and stillborn, it’s only unlistenable.
The album closes with “For Us,” featuring guest vocalist and fellow Seattleite Briana Marela. The track is largely par for the course of this album, which begins building up from the beginning with handclaps, drumbeats, and poppy piano melodies accumulating slowly into a wild drum and synth mash-up, which fades and then slowly mellows, ending In Return with a pretty though petty repetitious beauty.
On the whole In Return is a classic sophomore release. There are bright spots that glow with promise as well as mistakes that will hopefully be learned from. Fans of both dance and trance will largely take to this album without much thought, as will anyone who doesn’t expect much in return.