- Mediation is the Practice of Death
- Cremation Ghat I
- Cremation Ghat II
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Label: Drag City
The film Lawrence of Arabia masterfully conveys the size of its subject – the desert – through extended panoramic shots. You see, for instance, miles of blank sand and, somewhere, in the corner, a tiny black dot moves. Time passes and you see that the black dot is a man on camel back, and even so, it may be a minute or more before the character enters the scene fully enough to speak or act. It may help to think along these panoramic lines as you listen to Om’s long opening track “Thebes,” which takes shape as if out of a heat mirage, a drone coalescing into a repetitive loop of minor key notes. Two minutes pass before any vocals can be discerned, six before a drum kit gets any use, and eight and a half before the players crank the amplifiers for a Sabbath-like drone. The piece enters your ear space very slowly, in stages, as if coming from a long way away. As in Lawrence of Arabia, there is quite a lot of waiting for things to happen, and this is, possibly, why some people find Om tedious, others hallucinatory and compelling. After all, one person’s cinematic is another person’s boring.
God is Good is Om’s fourth studio album, and the first with new drummer Emil Amos (Amos made his first official recording with Om in the single “Gebel Barkal/Version” on Sub Pop last summer). It’s a big change, obviously, for a two-piece, and a fairly unqualified success. Amos, who also records with Grails, Holy Sons and Shrinebuilder, is far more flamboyant than Chris Hakius, less tethered to the steady chink of cymbals, more apt to range free-form over toms, rims and, in places, various hand drums. Listen, for instance, to how he keeps time in the simmering “Meditation is the Practice of Death,” a click and clash of cymbals measuring the four beats, but, in between, the hands and feet floating free of tempo in abstract flurries and syncopated slashes. “Cremation Ghat I,” the album’s fastest and most percussive track, hurtles ahead on clipped, rim-shot 16th notes, the bass speeding in tandem, turning almost funk against a revival hall backing of handclaps. Throughout the album, Amos makes the most of his kit’s variation in pitch, the high clipped tones of sticks on rims, the resonant rumble of low toms, the various notes elicited from different parts of the cymbals. Om has never been a super melodic band – you can pick out most of the riffs on a handful of black piano notes clustered round E Flat – but the drums have become a good deal more tonal and varied.
There are also a handful of other instruments in play, a cello and piano in the long “Thebes,” a flute in “Meditation,” some sort of Middle Eastern woodwind in “Cremation Ghat I” and sitar plus string section in closer “Cremation Ghat II.” A sort of minimalism is still in play, with short ideas repeated until your sense of time collapses, sameness building until the slightest change raises the ante.
Like Pilgrimage, God is Good borrows its cover imagery from Greek Orthodox icons, its polyglot spirituality from a range of religious traditions. The lyrics, fairly indecipherable even when the words themselves are plain, are chanted in clusters, usually following the bass’s minimal melodies, and evoking Allah, St. Paul’s roadside conversion, and Hindu mythology without much differentiation. God is good, it seems, but not very particular about what you call him.
And while everything is kept at a smoulder – the words unclear, the tempos slow – this new Om album is anything but boring. It moves at its own pace through vast spiritual landscapes, and if you can’t quite make out the melody drifting in from miles away, just wait a bit and it will come clear. - Jennifer Kelly (DustedMagazine.com September 24, 2009)