Headphone World: Odesza’s ‘In Return’

unnamedHarrison Mills and Clayton Knight are the Seattle-based production duo behind Odesza, a project early on racking up #1 plays from Hype Machine with tracks like “How Did I Get Here” and “IPlayYouListen”, long before their first live show together. Is it much of a surprise that their debut LP, In Return, has achieved another #1 get, opening at the top spot on the Billboard Charts in Dance/Electronic Albums? Released via Counter Records, a subsidiary of Ninja Tunes, In Return is a continuation of what Odesza do best: blending mellow world sounds with the blissful drops of headphone wave.

One of the stand-out tracks is “Sun Models” featuring vocals by Madelyn Grant. It immediately feels new and special. The refreshing way Odesza digitally and playfully morph Grant’s pitch so that it becomes an artificial element that merges with the watery notes of the xylophone is just as mesmerizing as when they use Grant’s melodic voice to intensify the sweeping build that comes and goes throughout the track. Its bouncy chords make for a consumable pop number that doesn’t sacrifice quality for hooks. Koto” is likewise restless with genuine energy. The title comes from the generic term meaning a Japanese stringed musical instrument, and it is certainly from there we get a harp-like flutter that ripples through the whimsical space Odesza create. These multi-functional tunes cater to the one-person dance party as much as they oblige the explosive appetite of the festival circuit.

Odesza are also able to create powerful songs without breaking down and reconstructing the singing of their guest vocalists. You can understand sentences from Zyra on “Say My Name” as well as Py on “Echoes”. “Say My Name” is a single taking off, and it’s no wonder with Zyra’s dusky vocals working well in an R&B surrounding. Py’s vocals, on the other hand, are treated for an eargasmic rush in “Echoes”, and the song bears a striking resemblance to the future bass-work AlunaGeorge is known for.

With their ability to isolate and extract sentiment from their instruments for all they’re worth, Odesza can sometimes end up with questionable results. “Kusanagi” will cut you open and make your heart bleed, but it’s like listening to Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”: it’s overwrought, and it’s boring. Wind chimes, the sound of children calling out in what I imagine to be a playground, and an indecipherable choir-like sample add up to exhaust and fatigue. “Memories That You Call” featuring Monsoonsiren and “Bloom” meanwhile feel dated, like formulaic exercises designed to get the crowd from point A to bananas. And it’s unsatisfying because “Bloom” has an interesting, resounding effect going with the drums that could be explored without the use of a clapping sample that dulls the magic. “Memories” similarly pushes an agenda of engineered euphoria onto the listener.

Odesza’s broad appeal is justified with In Return, thirteen tracks that show off the duo’s collaborative strengths, aesthetic influences in world textures, and the range they are capable of from instrumental electronic pieces to R&B pop tracks. Odesza are on the up.