Electronic music is perhaps at its most transcendent when it successfully communicates a feeling or emotion that we would otherwise find difficult expressing with words. And while the art-form has built and continues to build upon itself, in true post-modern fashion, it is rare to find a contemporary dance release that both revels in its own nostalgia, and simultaneously exists on the forefront of sonic innovation. Achieving this equilibrium is what perhaps best characterises ODESZA’s fourth and most recent studio instalment ‘The Last Goodbye’.
Expectant hype has steadily generated across the five years since ‘A Moment Apart’ was released, the production duo (Harrison Mills & Clayton Knight) teased their latest material on their microsite, sharing archival audio and video snippets from their childhood years. This initial motif of introspection, reminiscence, and our relationship with past identities is the essence that permeates the record, pairing with characteristic dance music tropes and an expansive sonic inventory to truly world-building, cinematic effect.
ODESZA begin their introspective journey with an echoing soundbite of their childhood selves; ‘This Version of You’ slowly transcends the temporal boundary with a monumental orchestral movement, its angelic choral accompaniment possessing a defiance that persists across the album. From here onwards we see an overarching dichotomy between tracks that follow this reflective, nostalgic trajectory, and tracks that situate themselves within the realm of masterfully polished dance music euphoria.
Songs like ‘Wide Awake’, whose expressive light and shade sees tribal rhythms, trance sensibilities, and pop-perfect vocals Charlie Houston feature, ‘Better Now’, a sunroof-down anthem packed with satisfying drops and MARO’s hushed, heart-on-sleeve delivery, and the buzzy, subtly poignant deep house heart-racer ‘Equal’, featuring English singer Låpsley, all revel in their pop flawlessness.
Meanwhile, the enigmatic, lullaby swing of ‘I Can’t Sleep’, the sunkissed, polyrhythmic haze of ‘North Garden’, and the vibrant optimism of ‘Healing Grid’ stem from impeccable, sample-based reworkings that delve into trip-hop and future house, and yet are defiantly bolstered by the duo’s unique sonic character.
The portrayal of the album’s concurrent theme is best achieved by tracks that harken back to its opener; the gorgeous harp interplay in ‘All My Life’, washing atop a heavily side-chained, mellow psychedelia, or the heartbreaking closer ‘Light Of Day’, which sees Ólafur Arnalds’ integrously subtle, face-value vocal delivery harken back to memories of times once faded, resurfacing in cathartic release.
Cyclical in nature, ‘The Last Goodbye’ ends as it begins; a fragmented soundbite from the duo’s past pulls a mother’s voice into focus, and signals the album’s close, “see you later, alligator.” And with that the voyage into the past falls back to the present. This is a cinematic body of work that triumphs in its ability to meld a plethora of electronic styles together with the glue-like emotional intent of sentimental reminiscence, and poignantly reminds the listener to hold dear their loved ones.
Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown