Before recording The Blue Depths, Odawas left the comfortable environs of Bloomington, IN for the more urban and creatively supportive ones of Chicago. Both "Bloomington albums," 2005's Aether Eater and 2007's beautifully titled The Raven and the White Night garnered critical praise, but it was the latter, the group's debut for Jagjaguwar, that was the more focused and enjoyable affair. The reason was that the gorgeous slate of vintage keyboard-driven ambience and atmospherics assembled by Isaac Edwards met more directly the Neil Young-esque songwriting ambitions of guitarist Michael Tapscott, who'd further explored his lyrical side on 2006's solo offering An Appendix of Whaling Terms (under the moniker More Animals of the Arctic), resulting in a more clearly definable series of songlike architectures. Odawas has also had an ever-evolving lineup, though for each of the group's first two albums they recorded and performed as a trio; first with drummer/flautist Jessica Halverson, and then with drummer/engineer Brad Cash.
On The Blue Depths, the band has become a duo, with Cash being relegated to his post of engineer and running the mixing desk, while Edwards and Tapscott continue in their functions as co-composers and multi-instrumentalists. Musically, the sound of Odawas hasn't changed much. It's dreamy, drifty, gentle, lush, elegant, and emotionally moving for all its melancholy texture and drift. Think a more orchestral sounding Mark Kozelek. But Tapscott has learned much over the course of writing three full-length recordings: his sense of economy and lyric imagism is more focused, less sprawling and wordy. And that's only part of the charm; Edwards has become a full-on sonic sculptor. He does so much with so little. His textures and dimensional depths are nearly orchestral; his backing vocal treatments, as on the opening "The Case of the Great Irish Elk," are staggeringly beautiful. And this is not the work of mountains of digital effects, but carefully layered analogue synthesizers, piano, organ, and some minimal program for percussive afterthoughts. The way he stacks cheap drum machines, with shimmering string and keyboard sounds on "Swan Song for the Humpback Angler" suggest the earliest ambitions of OMD before they decided to simply write pop singles. Add this to the mournful tenor grain of Tapscott's voices, his lithe weave of electric and acoustic guitars, and you have something utterly magical. Even on more sparsely adorned cuts such as "Our Gentle Life Together" -- where, to be fair, there is just as much going on, but the sense of space and sparseness is more pronounced -- the sound of nylon string guitars caress the cellos and violas as summery backing vocals float in the backdrop, this music works simply because nothing sounds forced; everything feels generally organic to the process of composition. Other notable tracks are the semi-rockist "A Harmless Lover's Discourse," with its glorious electric guitar-driven rhythms and chorale-style vocals, and the gorgeously overblown "Secrets of the Fall," with its multivalent layered vocal tracks, reverb drenched percussive effects, and electric pianos all weaving themselves into a blanket for Tapscott's forlorn vocals. That said, The Blue Depths is an album first and foremost and is assembled as one. Therefore, it should be listened to that way; because the aura it creates around the listener -- particularly through headphones -- is nothing short of spectacular.
- All Music Guide
released February 17, 2009
Marc Bonadies - Bass
Brad Cash - Audio Engineer, Engineer, Mixing
Helen Maurene Cooper - Photography
Isaac Edwards - Arranger, Organ, Piano, Processing, Programming, Synthesizer
Daniel Murphy - Layout Design
Michael Tapscott - Composer, Group Member, Guitar, Harmonica, Synthesizer, Vocals
Doug Van Sloun - Mastering