By A. L. Boulden
Cullen Omori‘s latest album, New Misery, is a refreshing listen in an era of electronic pop music. Omori even defines himself as a pop artist; one that strives to write hit singles. Inspired by his day job at a medical supply company, Omori says that, “There is so much dirt in hospitals and fuzz and lint and dried blood on these stretchers and wheelchairs. We’d clean them down, which in a way is kind of therapeutic, and listen to the radio. Then…record demos for what was to become the skeleton of New Misery. I can’t sit down and say I’m going to write a Sam Smith or an Adele song or whatever. The closest I can get to that is making like this weird hybrid of what I think is a pop song.” Omori’s songs are compelling because the melodies are pop-driven but the lyrical content is that of a singer-songwriter.
Released on the Seattle based independent label, Sub Pop Records, New Misery exhibits the elements that one would expect of an artist going solo: it’s ambitious, meandering and full of angst. The album mirrors how Omori probably feels after the breakup of his acclaimed band, The Smith Westerns. With the help of sound engineer Shane Stoneback, (RA RA Riot, Carley Rae Jepsen, Vampire Weekend), this album is sure to please fans of The Smith Westerns in that a similar sound was attained.
New Misery has a nice groove to it. The first thing I noticed when I heard the opening track, “No Big Deal,” was the articulate, throaty drums. Typically, the drums in current pop songs are overlooked but this album showcases the drums and cymbals nicely in the mix. New Misery ebbs and flows; bringing the listener up and down on a sea of thick keyboards and layered vocal harmonies. Heavily layered vocals and synthesizers become difficult to distinguish at times, but overall, these elements add to the ethereal vibe of this album; evoking the sound of bands like The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger and MGMT. The bass is not as distinguishable as when Omori played with The Smith Westerns but the guitar is prominent and cutting. The breakdown at 3:35 of “Hey Girl” shows that the band was having fun in the studio.
The title track brings the album to a close and leaves the listener wanting more. Omori must be excited to play these songs live.