Birth of Omni, the fifth full-length album by Birthmark, the solo project of Joan of Arc’s Nate Kinsella, is an album that is as strange to listen to as its bizarre-yet-beautiful cover art is to look at. This isn’t to say Birth of Omni is impenetrable, but it is worth noting how refreshing it can be to come across a record that delivers musically what its cover promises visually.
“Snowflake in My Palm (Not for Long)”, Birth of Omni’s gentle opener, is a pleasant synthesis of rhythmic indietronica similar to that of the glitchy Icelandic outfit Múm and warped vocal stylings akin to Arca. “Snowflake …” rolls directly into “Butterfly”, a song that hilariously combines lovely harp-like strings with a foul-mouthed monologuist pitched down so as to sound like something from Mellow Gold-era Beck. The song takes an optimistic turn halfway-in, however, with the addition of lush strings and synths.
The dancefloor-ready “Birthday (Product of Our Lust)” offers a stylistic changeup that continues with its neighbor, the upbeat “Rodney”, a song that has Kinsella providing a contrary take on the lyrics to Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” as he sings lines like, “See my beautiful wife, in my beautiful house, these are my beautiful children, no I can’t sneak out.”
The album’s delightful quirkiness continues with “Baby Woncha Come on Home”, a song that pairs unconventional percussion with vocals by Arone Dyer whose voice and lyrics recall Tori Amos in all the best ways. “Boyfriend” turns Birth of Omni toward something that could almost be considered pop if not for its genre twist with the addition of a skittering hi-hat and an ultra-funky Prince-inspired guitar solo.
At six and a half minutes, “Red Meadow” is Birth of Omni’s longest track. Kinsella manages to keep the song interesting with the addition of unusual electronic effects that emerge and disappear as the song gradually builds to add an emotive staccato string section. Nate’s voice here is at once soulful and matter of fact. It’s a combination that works well for the material. “Pretty Flowers” is Birth of Omni’s closer, and it cleverly rolls us back to the warped vocals of the record’s opener. Just before the song’s end, a child’s voice starts shouting “I’m awake, I’m awake, I’m awake,” leaving us with a feeling of late period hopefulness.
With Birth of Omni, it’s clear Kinsella had a definite concept in mind for his Birthmark project’s latest album cycle. Although there are recognizable inspirations for much of what’s here, the context in which these influences exist provides a freshness to the material. Birth of Omni is an often-peculiar listen, but it’s also one that never takes itself too seriously. If approached with an open heart and mind, there’s a lot to love here.