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Odawas have reduced to a duo on The Blue Depths, their third album, and in doing so they have also stripped back their sound to reveal a lush and austere collection of songs. On first listen it is hard to penetrate the shiny surface of the music as it drifts by, but on further listening a depth and beauty emerges to make this an understated gem.
The immediate touchpoint of The Blue Depths is the voice of Michael Tapscott with its keening high register eerily similar to Jonathan Donahue from Mercury Rev. He coaxes out the often indiscernible words at a mournful and melancholic pace that suggests loss and loneliness. It matters little that the words don’t convey specific meaning as the sound of his voice speaks volumes.
After the disappointing foray into electronic music that was the last Mercury Rev album it is refreshing to hear a record that does it so well. Odawas succeed because they don’t take their influence from a nineties Underworld or Orb; instead they’ve reached back further and borrowed from bands like OMD, early Ultravox and latter day Talk Talk. The music those bands produced share a common thread of minimalist washes of sound that conjured up emotional landscapes that were both icy and lush at the same time. The opening track The Case Of The Great Irish Elk layers a bed of billowing synths and strings that sets the blue mood and dramatic tone of the album before segueing into Swan Song For The Humpback Angler with twinkling notes and heavily reverbed drums. It is the most overtly 80s moment on The Blue Depths.
Gradually the duo introduce traditional instruments into the mix as on Our Gentle Life Together where a mandolin can be heard in the distance through the cloud of heavy violins and Moonlight/Twilight with its ghostly harmonica. The blending of these organic and inorganic instruments is the key to why the album works so well. Without the two it would be a more obvious tribute to cold 80s synth pop and by infusing the songs with the spirit of songwriters like Scott Walker and Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) they have avoided that trap to create something new and unique.
Odawas’ 80’s sensibility is shared with other contemporary bands such as M83. Odawas though take a much darker approach and they travel through the shadows when M83 prefer the sunlight. A song like Harmless Lover’s Discourse sits midway between both bands and in the backing vocals there is a phasing effect strongly reminiscent of The Field. Even though it is a subtle touch of modernity it is worth mentioning as it shows the attention to detail that Tapscott and Isaac Edwards have applied to their music. Rounding out the album is Boy In The Yard, a dream-pop update of Dream Academy’s ‘Life In A Northern Town’ with its synth toms, bells and strings and it perhaps best sums up The Blue Depths. It traverses the feeling of solitude early on and then travels to a much more positive and upbeat place by the end of the song, along the way integrating most of the variety of instruments that feature on the album.
At thirty seven minutes The Blue Depths doesn’t outstay its welcome, any longer and Tapscott’s downbeat vocals would start to weight too heavily on the mood of the record. Taken as a whole it does live up to its title, taken from Luc Besson’s film The Big Blue, in that there is a definite feeling of floating beneath the sea; where there is darkness below and light on the surface. This album will reveal more on each listen and will compel you to return to it again and again to explore its ethereal depths.