Magic Omnibus | May 2015

omni josh-rouseJosh Rouse’s The Embers of Time is a subtle, soulful album, one that’s weathered a spiritual darkness and has emerged to blink and smile at a sunrise that felt as if it’d never arrive.




Dear readers (there are readers, I think? I hope? In theory, at the very least?), I must apologize for going AWOL on last month’s Omnibus. However, I have a valid excuse! I was traversing Britain (I made it all three constituent countries: England, Scotland, and Wales!) for two entire weeks of April, and then came home to a mountain of real life that needed tending to—not to mention the cold I caught that morphed into a sinus infection upon my return. Ugh. But now that I’m a paragon of health, caught up and back on the level, it’s time to take a dip back into the effervescent sea of new music that flows all around us. Without further ado…

Rae Morris | Unguarded (Atlantic)

omni rae-morrisBlackpool native Rae Morris is a mere 22 years old, young and serious but not naive. She’s got intense phrasing and radiates a sincere, precocious talent that’s a little bit Lorde, a little bit Björk, and a little bit Kate Bush. Dramatic but not overwrought, songs like the slowly unfurling, curtain-raising “Skin” and the stately title track (a collaboration with former Semisonic mastermind and songwriter par excellence Dan Wilson) resound with piano, strings, and the ghosts of an old stone church. Meanwhile, “Under the Shadows” and “Closer” pulse with sweeping electronic beats and memorable, sinuous vocal melodies. Morris succeeds by marrying a wholly modern electronic pop sheen to a piano-based confessional singer/songwriter vibe. It’s as if she’s deftly conducting an intimate conversation in a crowded room. Everyone can hear her, but the message feels as if it’s directed at and meant just for you. Unguarded is deep and emotional, immediate but not ephemeral, becoming impressively, rewardingly better and revealing additional tide pools of genuine, clear-eyed emotion with each additional spin.

Monophonics | Sound of Sinning (Transistor Sound)

Crackling indie soul from the Bay Area, bursting with hooks and at once both burnished and appealingly rough-edged: Think a less DayGlo Fitz & the Tantrums merged with a not-as-frenetic J.C. Brooks. There’s not enough innovation to stop you from getting a mild sense of having heard this all before, but that doesn’t mean it’s derivative. Instead, Sound of Sinning provides an ideal, tried-and-true salve for when a lover done you wrong, and accompaniment to getting spiffed up and ready to hit the town on a Saturday night to distract yourself from said wrongdoing.

Death and Vanilla | To Where the Wild Things Are (Fire)

Swedish dream pop that makes itself a cup of coffee, gets its head out of the clouds and, using vintage gear such as vibraphone, Moog, Mellotron, organ, and flea market 1970s microphones, gets its hands dirty and builds something. Standout track “California Owls” is three minutes of structure that effortlessly shifts into two minutes of instrumental, half-ambient floating. “The Hidden Reverse” utilizes spacey, BBC Radiophonic Workshop–esque sounds to excellent, extra-planetary effect. Completely instrumental, save for a handful of wispy, whispered vocalizations, “Moogskagen” recalls the wordless excursions of Air or the Alan Parsons Project.

 Say Lou Lou | Lucid Dreaming (à Deux)

omni lou-louLet’s not dance around the musical pedigree of sisters Elektra and Miranda Kilbey: They’re the daughters of Church singer, songwriter, and bassist Steve Kilbey, and Pink Champagne frontwoman Karin Jansson. But while those musically attuned Kilbey genes are present and well accounted for (are musical midichlorians a thing?), and the connection is admittedly fascinating, Say Lou Lou are notable independent from their lineage. Their electro-pop is intense and vulnerable, pulsing with danger and attempts to sweeten sharp edges with hook-laden choruses and a big, immediate production. While “Games for Girls” is an obvious single that grates slightly with overcooked Euro-dance rhythms, “Nothing but a Heartbeat” is a far more intelligent, savvy stab at immediacy. The album’s juiciest moments are mid-tempo tracks like “Julian” and “Everything We Touch” and dreamy ballads “Wilder than the Wind” and “Angels (Above Me).” Say Lou Lou excel at juxtaposition, seeming to take great pleasure in pairing upbeat songs with sad or confused lyrics, or downtempo, pensive music with declarations of love or good fortune. Mom and Dad have to be positively beaming with pride.

Petite Noir | King of Anxiety (Domino)

This five-song EP from Cape Town artist Yannick Ilunga melds downbeat, negative-space electronic trip-pop with dark, progressive rhythmic explorations. His vocals are gripping and haunting, recalling Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke in his most intense moments. Bits of old-school soul and R&B rub up against dissonant post-punk rhythms in the quiet-loud dynamic “Till We Ghosts,” and the entire EP bears spectral imprints of Ian Curtis, 808s-era Kanye, contemporary South African music, and dissonant, droning electronica.

The Mary Onettes | “Ruins” (Cascine)

Philip Ekström does beautifully wistful melancholy (shot through with hope) better than nearly anyone. While last year’s Portico EP was intriguing yet gauzily impressionistic and easier to admire than to love, this new track effortlessly targets and latches on to the feels. “Ruins” is redolent with resonant, Nordic melancholy, marrying fretless bass and fascinating synthetic steel drum sounds with a dreamy vocal melody and heartrending backing vocals from Maria Usbeck. Senses of having unearthed a trove of hidden emotions and unlocking inner color are reflected in the split-open hedron on the single’s cover.

Josh Rouse
| The Embers of Time (Yep Roc)

Veteran, Nebraskan-expat-in-Spain singer/songwriter Josh Rouse has produced a new album borne of a period of depression and self-doubt. Rouse has referred to the stealthily released The Embers of Time as his “surreal expat therapy record,” and while it’s clearly marinated in existential crisis and self-examination, Rouse does it without the insularity that can befall art that comes from recovery. Instead, he channels his struggles and revelations outward into songs full of his trademark subtle wit, tenderness, warmth, and emotional fluency, all set to a mix of Countrypolitan pop-twang, late 1960s/early 1970s–era Dylan and folk rock. This is a subtle, soulful album, one that’s weathered a spiritual darkness and has emerged to blink and smile at a sunrise that felt as if it’d never arrive. | Mike Rengel

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