OR:- They even let in blasphemers at the Bongo Club.
Advaitic Songs, the title referring to the school of Hinduism of which the final goal is to realise that ‘the self’ and ‘the whole’ are in fact one and recognition of this leads to spiritual liberation. I’ve had a love affair with Om, the singular-minded project of ex-Sleepanites Al Cisneros and (until recently) Chris Haikus (whose form is now nobly inhabited by Emil Amos (who insists he isn’t a drummer)). Advaitic Songs on the surface purports to be everything we expected, full of the same dronerific eastern-influenced caravan riding right out on the heels of the Dopesmoker re-release, but lighter, more nuanced and more introverted; capturing Cisneros’ nervous and gentle state much more than Dopesmoker’s castle-storming entirety. Om’s output really is through the eyes of Cisneros, to his soul; their output rather like his own attitudes and depending on viewpoint is either the kind of intellect that can only come from a lifetime of space cadetting the astral planes or bullshit pill-freak jingoism severely overinterpretted by the people in the former camp. Advaitic Songs seems to be by-the-numbers Om and if it were just that I’d be writing this still, but it really isn’t. I strongly suspect this’ll be their last album, hope that it is and believe it naturally should be. On the cover there is Jesus in ethereal form and the music reflects the balls-out nature of the cover’s statement.
Sleep was a caravan, at least as much as their music was. Starting out as a post-hardcore band called Asbestos Death before becoming a stoner band called Sleep, then shedding a member and becoming a life-defining power-trio called Sleep who only cranked out two albums in their tenure but two of the best albums of all time. Om seemed a logical extension of this concept, ditching Matt Pike and filling the songs with howling emptiness, kept hemmed in by only bass and extremely organic drumming. For years they’ve been taking the Dopesmoker sound refining it, becoming lighter, ditching the crashing heaviness and being witness to the lyrical coming-of-age of Al Cisneros. For nearly a decade Al Cisneros has been wandering in the desert. An audio desert much like Dopesmoker’s famed reefer caravan through which like stoned pilgrims the Om devotees have been marching tirelessly. Trying to make out the footprints in the ever-shifting desert dunes has been difficult, and the frustration when briefly on Live Conference we realised we were all marching in circles was maddening, but at last I feel Om’s mission may be at an end, because like Sleep they have now brought us the definitive statement that their kind of music can bring. This ain’t some fan-rage, I genuinely expected this would come and now I can say, having considered it, that this is the definitive Om disk, and we have reached the hanging gardens and there are more expansive and majestic than I could ever have comprehended, but I still love walking in the desert.
Advaitic Songs is a revelation, and it may be Revelation itself. Om’s pet adjective was barren, or perhaps bare. Empty soundscapes much like shifting desert sands, for sure scathing, with the right wind/volume they’ll rip all that seemingly harmless stuff into a consortia wire whirlwind. They were always kings standing court over a kingdom containing Earth and Tim Eriksen, minimalism the birthright. The Om sound, like the holy trinity was composed of Cisneros’ voice, Cisneros’ bass and the drums; the sun, the wind and the sand. But the new album is… complex. Sitars, a full orchestral accompaniment, guest vocals pan back and forth like the voice of god and the angels and the rightful accompaniment might sound to desert-weary smoke-heads on their way to Sleep-Mecca. After years of wandering in the desert with only the most meagre of sonic tipples on which to subsist we have come upon a paradise.
Om is not summer music. Om isn’t music intended for yer hoomin ears to be honest. There’s something it does to people. Strange memories as I dial it up and prepare to spend the eve sloppy drunk blasting the album on infinite repeat hanging out of the windows shouting to passing strangers “hey buddy! Get yerself down offa that thing, you’re liable to get yerself killed!” and then laughing hysterically. Memories of one or three or ten nervous and tired nights at Edinburgh’s Bongo Club, a favourite and irregular haunt, I can’t go there often lest the angst become too deep to sustain, but I treasured that place because no matter how twisted you’ve gotten or what sort of substance trip you’re hipped all the way up on they’ll still see you right. Nobody gets turned away from the Bongo ‘less they’re bringing everyone else down. I remember hanging with the hipsters, the burned out ones and the ones coming up to a burnout, getted sloppy wasted once again on a variety of fluids more commonly used for de-greasing engines or stripping paint. I remember watching everyone else; bent, sick, twisted, ill, in the theatre of the unwell… good people. I watched a skinny hipster outside sucking on a toothpick joint like it was his air supply, shoulders hunched around it. Another much more human figure approached him, gesturing with a hip-flask. It was clear to my comparatively straight mind that he wanted a snoot for a toke, but one had as much trouble conveying the message as the other had receiving it, they were so twisted on whatever moment it was. I remember an entire night spent enjoying myself carefully eyeing a man in the middle of the bar standing stock still holding a half pint staring at the floor, who appeared not to move for over two hours. When it finally came time for last orders someone tapped him on the shoulder and he shook his head and said “having a great time”… They used to play Om in the Bongo Club, I think. The more I think the more I just assumed that from the behaviour of the clientele. That’s what Om brings out in people. It confuses you, spins you about.
Om is still painting with a wide brush. The opening salvo of this odyssey across the Sinai sets the tone. Electric echoes like the megaphone call to prayer echo out before Al’s telegraph-wire bass chimes in with almost no bass on it; it’s really bass that could be a bongo, the strings ain’t strings, they’re skins. By the third minute you’ll be a total convert to the philosophy that rock and roll, while inappropriate for much of the straighter population of the world, is the only true way to true enlightenment and that the charge on that front is very much being led by these records going out time and again on every station. Even if you’re stone-cold sober you’ll feel like you’ve masticated a mouthful of Mexican Mushies and you’re imagining all this… Just keep staring at the floor having a great time like that Om head in the Bongo club… Just what the hell am I doing? With all these records and all this wattage in my living room? You may have once asked, but Om are there to tell yah time and again that yooz ain’t wasting a second or a dime kitting yer pad out with Norse god hammer thud noise and with speaker setups like that the only legitimate solution is to arm yourself to the teeth with as much yawp and mung as is possible and with all Advaitic Songs haai falootin’ ayedeers ‘bout bringin’ yooz a layered, dynamic and subtle journey, with extreme attention paid to detail, there are also stunning sonic astral flights where yer strapped in to a Saturn five, cabriolet, natch, so you can enjoy the sky, and get all yer carefully pruned hair near enough wrenched from yer skull by the sheer windy power of summa these blasts. Credit to ‘em I say, for slowing things down to a sludge trudge and still making it danceable, if you’re a hash-head this is gonna sound like disco.
In Advaitic Songs Om have definitively nailed the beauty of that final image of ultimate statement for us all to gawp at like slack-jawed fools. Simultaneously more carefully constructed and more viciously heavy than their previous offerin’s, showcasin’ more of the proud vocal gesticulations of the sort that really can start a cult. After near enough twenty years of trudging through the sands on the outskirts of the mythical biblical city of perfection Om have finally found the gates to that heavenly kingdom and are coming back out bearing sheet music for the hymns sung as y’ enter the gate. Rarely does an album come along that is so immediately right and produce such a palpable thunderous declaration with each revolution that we are indeed on the right path. Usually we try to keep it to wee underground bands here because y’all will undoubtedly have this big release on pre-order, but Om’s new album is such a monumental piece of yawp that I just had to explain to y’all why, give it a hearty thumbs up and reassure y’ that y’ can point to this record, in the warm yella’ with the Big J on the cover and say: this is evidence of the sustaining ability of rock and roll to be transcendent.
Written under duress by Steven.
P.S. No I will not be writing anything about Emily White (except this). I’ve expressed my desire repeatedly for music to die. If music dies as a commercial prospect it will take the money out of it. All the greats never broke even anyway. With the greed-heads warping the agenda gone we’ll all be able to listen to people who make music not for monetary gain but because they love the art. As Cope deftly observed, the difference between a celebrity and a hero is that the celebrity walks the tightrope and dances like a loon on the rooftops for the applause, the hero does the same thing, but he’ll still be dancing after everyone has gone home. The hero is operating for his own holistic ends, as should all musicians. When the rock and roll revolution has forged a new utopian future we can maybe look into state sponsorship for bands although I’m maybe still against that because the suffering is all part of the art.
P.P.S. Ironically having just namedropped Emily White, I am reviewing a pirated leaked copy of Advaitic Songs (hence the review a month before release) but I have given them a pre-order for a physical copy. Square that away morally as you will.