A Moment Apart: Album Review

So, uh.. I wanted to do something as archaic as an album review. The sounds we fall in love with...

September 17, 2017

ODESZA’s newest album A Moment Apart starts with a ticking sound. Or, more accurately, it starts with a voice, female, who tells a story about a Russian cosmonaut (from a movie called "Another Earth", apparently. The more you know), who, in space, begins to hear a ticking sound. And then, we, the listeners, hear the sound as well. Tick, tick. It drives him crazy, she says, and then he only has one solution. As she puts it:

“The only way to save his sanity, is to fall in love with the sound.”

And then the album begins.

A Moment Apart is the third album by ODESZA, just released on the 8th of September, three years after the spectacular “In Return”, that really put them on the roadmap (at least for me, and I think, for many other people). This is a further development of their light, euphoric chill-wave sound that both In Return and Summer’s Gone (although, I will admit, I have less experience with that album) created lush, bright soundscapes that was easy to lose yourself to. It is bright, it’s somewhat poppy, and it’s wholly listenable, almost to a fault, sometimes. On this album they have further expanded their song-writing, and more of the songs feature singers from outside to support their horizons of synths and beats. There should be a lot of reasons why I dislike the album, then, but it has continued to grab me over the past week, and I think part of the answer lies in that very opening.
The album offers a reason why we should listen before it even begins, and I as a listener has found myself surrender to it, rather than uphold my grudges to its flatter ideas and lyrical tendencies, and that, I think, may entirely be the point.

Opening with a Bang

The opening to this album is hands down one of the best openings I have heard in recent memory, up there with 太鼓, Skin, and Lektion III. It’s that good.

The intro track described above, which carries the ticking rhythm into the title track A Moment Apart, to then immediately explode into a lightning fast arpeggiator and, a little after, a discordant piano, leading to the full-on rhythm.
A Moment Apart (the track) is a wonderful example of ODESZA’s ability to create lush textures with a few, amazing samples and instruments, which is really what I love the most about them. A Moment Apart shows ODESZA’s upbeat at its best, with some great sense of space and wonder, right off the bat.

The album settles into an up-tempo groove with Higher Ground and Boy, the next two tracks, which follow a similar tempo, one with a poppy lyrical sensibility in Higher Ground, and the other with a continuation of the strong focus on beat that unfortunately doesn’t leave quite enough room for to breathe. These songs in many way feel like ODESZA in their zone, although with a slight tendency towards pop and dance we saw in parts of In Return, as well.

The second of the album’s four parts slows down the tempo, ultimately reaching the a slow point with Across the Room that I find wholly uninteresting, primarily because its lyrics and beat feel uninspired and flat. Line of Sight, though, before it, I will put into a category of songs on this album that sort of defines the album for me, in my mind. Line of Sight breaks the structure with some bassy synths and a collaboration on lyrics, of which I find the non-lyrical ones more interesting than the ones you can understand.

ODESZA is great at manipulating voice. They pitch and process and distort voices to turn them into instruments in almost all their songs, and to me—outside my personal grief with lyrics—I find I am most drawn when I do not have to understand what the singers are saying.
Ok, that probably bears some explaining. I should maybe do a full post in it sometimes, but just to keep it short: I, in general, dislike lyrics. I am honestly not a fan of lyrics in most songs. I had a long period where I adamantly did not want to listen to a song with lyrics in it. That has slowly softened, but I still think 90% of the music I listen to is without lyrics, and I have a very immediate reaction to lyrics overtaking a song in a way I dislike, which makes it difficult for the song to win me over again.
Across the Room has this effect on me, and I initially wanted to discard Higher Ground, Line of Sight, Just a Memory and Falls because of this as well.
However, this album does something I have not experienced a lot: I still listen to it—and I listen to most of those songs, too.
When I say Line of Sight defines this album for me, it is because it is emblematic of this quality. It is more poppy, it is lyrical, and it is still ODESZA. There’s still enough of the landscape in there that I will listen to, regardless of the rest. And I find myself surprisingly okay with the song, as it is. I don't... mind it, which is often the highest praise I have for most lyrics.

The Tallest of Ceilings

The rest of the album continues in a lot of the same way that the first half, although, the songs come in a greater variety, for good and bad.

Meridian, the exact halfway point on the album, was initially a let-down, but after repeated listens, it shows ODESZA’s skill at manipulating voice, as they create powerful collages with vocal samples that pulsate in the chorus, and create insanely rich spaces with what feels like very few elements (but really, after listening to it a bunch, it really isn’t few). I think the track just opens weakly.

The next three songs, Everything at Your Feet (despite being in Spanish), Just a Memory, and Divide, to contrast, are all songs I would put in the other category: Songs where the lyrics fill too much.
There’s no question they (and especially Regina Spektor’s voice) are beautiful, but they just don’t do a lot for me.

Then, we get an interlude before the final act with the track Thin Floors and Tall Ceilings, and it’s a great example of ODESZA’s slower paced soundscapes, full of pitched vocal samples, glitchy drums, lush mixes of plucked strings and swathes—almost orchestras—of strings at the end. It’s a nice reminder that ODESZA can do other types of songs than seen in the past four tracks, and an unfortunate reminder that I would have liked to see more of this.

However, it’s ok, because La Ciudad is amazing. It opens with a fantastic clapping sample, and slowly moves along with itself, how three parts of it arguably could be its chorus, and how much it subtly changes and culminates at the end with a spectacular rush of vocals timed to the beat that feels like what the song was building towards the entire time without you realizing. This song is great.

Falls is the last send-off to the pop, and I actually don’t mind this track too much. It’s simple, a bit formulaic, but it mostly works.

The album ends with a duo of tracks in Show Me and Corners of the Earth.
Show Me kicks off with a beat-heavy style that transitions into a melodic synth which combo off each other. And while it doesn’t do much more than this throughout its 3-minute running time, it serves as a nice pacer before the outro-track that will get us well ready to take us out. Corners of the Earth follows immediately with a similar melody, but this time sung by a processed choir, before Ry X’s vocals dominates the space, accompanied by some strong, almost cyberpunk horns. It slows winds up into a full-blown beat with the choir kicked back in as well, before winding down with the choir and soon, we’re back where we started, with the ticking from the astronaut, and the album closes, with the ticking, once again.
And that ticking turns out to be all important to my liking of this album.

That Ticking Sound

All in all, A Moment Apart is another step in ODESZA’s swerve towards a more poppy tone, with more lyric-heavy songs and a lesser focus on instrumentals. And I'll admit, that is partly my fault for primarily listening to the instrumental versions of songs from In Return (as they released a deluxe version), and I forgot many of the songs actually had lyrics. Hah.

If I were to point out my favourite tracks off this album, it’d be A Moment Apart, La Cuidad, Line of Sight, Thin Floors and Tall Ceilings, and Meridian, only one of which is a lyrical song.

Yet, I still find this album oddly addictive. I’ve returned to it over and over again over the last week, constantly lured in by wanting to listen to the amazing opening again. Then, however, I invariably find that I skip some songs, but I always end up listening to more of it than I expected to.
Since it is pop-ier and soft, it is easy to fall into, which is one of the signifiers of pop: Popular because it is easily likable. A lot of people might dislike pop out of that notion, out of a want to be “better” or because it’s all “bad now” or whatever.
Whatever, people. It’s not pop music that’s bad because it's popular. It’s not lyrics by themselves, but how they are often used. I actually find some pop quite good. This album is an example.

But, I had to grow to it. I have that same averse reaction, sometimes, too. Where I hear something and fall away because it seems like I shouldn’t like it. Because we hear too much of it. Because we grow tired of the samey sameness of it all. Because lyrics are boring.

And, thus, we return to the ticking.

“The only way to save his sanity, is to fall in love with the sound.”

And there it hit me. Not everything we hear has to challenge us. Sometimes, it is okay to surrender to a sound, in order to fall in love with it.

The whole album flows incredibly well. It’s easy listening, but that’s not a bad thing, as it’s sometimes made out to be. I've listened more to the album rather than individual songs, still, even with all those caveats. It's easy to fall in love with.

The quote could be read as a message to those who dislike the album for being something they do not want, as a disclaimer that "this will be different but bear with us". But really, I think it is more personal than that: It is a message to you, the listener, to remember that we sometimes should fall in love with a sound, even if it is one we hate.

Wooh! That was something different! That was fun to write (and a little difficult, never done anything like this before)! Hope it was fun to read, as well 😊

If you didn't, don’t worry, there’ll be more coming soon. Already got some stuff planned and got a backlog I should have some space to begin looking at now. I already have an idea for another album review (because 太鼓 bloody deserves it), and I have a first draft of a post about… religion, of all things, so look forward to that!