Found sounds, field recordings and decayed tapes combine with lush, often minimalist orchestration to create a beautifully sorrowful ghost story
As the title to this blog suggests I’m not really an expert in anything – I know a little about a lot, and a lot about very little. In my dalliances with various genres of music I like to think I’ve covered quite a lot of ground, possibly at the expense of becoming an authority on anything at all. I don’t mind that so much – there’s just too much weird and wonderful music in the world to pins one flag in a particular corner of the musical landscape and stay put. One of the best and worst things I found I had a taste for is ambient, drone, neo-classical etc. These were the discoveries that made me realise I probably wasn’t cut out to make a living from writing about music – whilst I was being moved and affected by the music I found it impossible to capture how and why. Trying to find the words to capture something so inscrutable was like trying to pin down water. Listening to it sooothed me; writing about frustrated me. That famous Zappa quote about writing about music being like dancing about architecture started to make sense. Why try to capture something when it’s elusiveness is a large part of it’s charm?
Why indeed. I suppose we all love the thrill of the chase, the joy of the search, in our own ways. Even if there’s no prospect of the hunt ever ending with a kill.
If I were to judge Odham’s Standard on what I normally look for in a record of this type I’d have to call it a failure. As much as I seek out melancholy I look for it to be of the relaxing, consoling variety; a warm blanket of sadness to crawl under. But Odham’s Standard rarely seems to want to comfort the listener. It starts with what sounds like a decayed version tubular bells, like we’re being introduced to a well worn horror story, yellowed pages marked by the frequent turning by dirty fingers. Origamibiro utilise lots of field recordings and unusual instrumentation in their work – wood knock percussion, the groans of tightening ropes and mattress springs, objects being slid across surfaces and dragged across floors, the crunch of footsteps in snow. At times it almost sounds like like a BBC sound effect record gaining sentience and going feral. During the achingly mournful Tinder it almost sounds like the the breathings of the innards of a living house. The sparse, melancholy strings are seemingly surrounded by the chaos of life. It’s a theme that seems to run through the whole record; during the more tense passages it feels like an anxiety dream about agoraphobia, imbued with the yearnful sorrow of being denied the world.
Origamibiro, which is to say multi-instrumentalist duo Tom Hill and Andy Tytherleigh, have spoken about Odham’s Standard being influenced by spirit photography and EVP, and it does have a haunted quality to it, the queesy feeling of something being ever so slightly off. Even without looking at the worn away photograph on the cover the record feels bathed in sepia. Even a natural skeptic to such things as EVP and spirit photography can’t help but be moved by the idea of them, of ghosts or echoes of lives being accidentally captured. The closest sensation the skeptic gets to this is when watching an old movie when you suddenly become aware of the fact that in all likelihood everyone involved in it’s production has passed away, that in watching the actors play out the scenes you’re witnessing some part of them encased in the amber of celluloid, that you’re watching ghosts on film.
There’s something in the sound of the taut strings immitating rain of a thin tin roof and subtle breathing of the title track that summons such musings. On Direct Voice the strings sounding like the ticking of the clock, urgent and incessant, bringing and unavoidable and fearful awareness of the passing of time. Then there’s a voice on the radio swamped in static – another phantom on the airwaves. There’s an uneasy sense of momentum to the faster, busier tracks like this one and Armistice Cenotaph – like we’re being inexorably pulled towards or being pushed from something.
It’s an effect somewhat akin to the cut up bricolage of The Books sans voice samples, or perhaps Helios at their most serene or Heroin and Your Veins. The ghostly quality even brings to mind the Lynchian Doom-Jazz vibe of Bohren & der Club of Gore , in atmosphere if not instrumentation. It feels at pain to sound organic, so much so that the sporadic bass on Tinder feels jarringly out of place, like seeing a digital wristwatch on an actor in a period drama. It’s the sole blip on the record – everything else is meticulously placed. A common pitfall of artists using field recordings and found sounds is that it can sound scattershot, random, weird for it’s own sake – something expertly sidestepped throughout Odham’s Standard.
Pulmonary Piano feels like the most orthodox thing on the record, the keys and strings sounding more straight forward song-like than anything else here, but even when playing things relatively straight they sound haunted and lost, with the creaking of what sounds like a great weight straining a swinging rope (best not to consider what might be) and heavy, focused breathing coating song in a troubling murk. In seeking to create something undeniably eerie, to mimic that fear of glimpsing something beyond our world experienced during supposed EVP experiences, Origamibiro have undeniably succeeded. It plays out like the best kind of horror story – no jump scares, no shocks, just the unshakeable feeling that something is unquestionably and unplaceably wrong. The only question for the listener is what their imagination will make of it all, what they will see as the dread seeps into them. “What happened?” a faint voice asks as we get to the end of the brief, haunted static of Raising William. There’s no answer.
I’d be interested to see what their art shows and live performances (collaborating with video artist The Joy of Box) are like and discover how far the images Odham’s Standard conjure in my minds eye are from what they intended. For me it’s feels like the agoraphobia of a ghost inexorably tied to a place for whatever reason, life unbearably continuing around them as they contemplate eternity. That may well be a million miles away for what they aimed for. I hope to find out eventually, but in the meantime I’ll keep exploring the nooks and crannies of this fascinating record, headphones on, encased in sound, staring with the nauseous mix of longing and revulsion at the world outside my window.