STAGES OF QUARANTINE GRIEF: OHMME'S DISCOGRAPHY
June 12th, 2020
Words by Pia Parisi-Marcoux · Artwork by Beyza Durmuş
The easiest way to find faith during this unprecedented lull is to explore what’s being made by others and let it inspire us
In January of this year, I was living in Mexico City. I was working - to my perpetual, joyous disbelief - as a musician, and better still, where the music scene is as sprawling and multipartite as the city itself. The world had not yet broken under the weight of sweeping, simultaneous distress and I, like all of us, was still taking the future for granted.
It’s only in retrospect, now that a planned year of travel has been upended and I am hiding out in the haunted museum of my adolescence, that I can identify what it means to take the future for granted, and how immense it is to experience the swift, merciless crumbling of that core assumption. Our endeavors, our plans, our aspirations - our rapacious pursuit of life - rely squarely on the understanding that the world will go on as we predict. For now, that has ceased to exist. We have moved from an open moment to a closed one.
I started listening to Ohmme after I came across their Tiny Desk Concert on NPR, smack in the middle of my last-ever finals week. I can’t remember how many times I watched it. At the time, I was thinking about taking music seriously. It had always seemed like a life-altering digression from the professional arc I spent my college years building, but Ohmme made it seem dignified. Ferociously human. Fun. It was hard to focus on ending that life chapter with any sort of verve when I had their world to look forward to - when I was poised to enter an open moment of my own.
I grew to love their 2018 debut LP “Parts”, a defiant, guitar-forward, outward projection of pure sulkiness, encapsulated perfectly by a lilting harmony on the title track - “I’m in a mood I’m in a mood I’m in a mood” - radiating a low-level, radioactive anger.
Despite its undeniably frenetic energy, “Parts” always felt like an album that knew what it was. Multipart songs embodied the fractured nature of human consciousness - our ‘parts’, so to speak. At the record’s center is a complicated, plural self, whose corners stretch infinitely in every direction. “Parts” asked, “how can you expect self exploration to be coherent or digestible? How can you expect it to be anything but feral?”
Listening was thrilling: though the different, moving parts of its songs could easily overshadow or undermine one another and fade into raucous obscurity, they instead interlock seamlessly. It’s an ambitious balancing act that works because leads Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham share an intimacy rooted in inexhaustible mutual admiration, and because Matt Carroll’s drumming expertly takes what might otherwise be an intimate dialogue between two friends - rambling, indulgent, fascinating - and makes it parseable.
If “Parts” acknowledges a complicated self, Ohmme’s new record “Fantasize Your Ghost” nudges that self towards actualization. Released last week, the record comes on the tail of years spent touring, prompting both Stewart and Cunningham to think about their lives in stark terms, and to resolve to live life with more intention.
“It came from a place of being ready to embrace change,” Stewart said of the title track, “Ghost”. “And being scared to do that for fear of not knowing how it’ll turn out, and fighting the urge to act out of fear rather than just going with it.”
“Ghost”, according to Stewart, evokes a sort of crossroads. “It was about looking back at all of your past selves that you could have been, that you want to be, you know, kind of envisioning yourself at the end of your life looking back and trying to figure out what it all means and what your choices have led you to.” She went on to say that the song “encapsulates the energy behind the record”. It is, in other words, about change.
Despite thematic similarity, each song is different. “The Limit”, for example, begins with a straightforward concession: “I reached my limit today”. Whether this marks the writer’s resolution to grow out of self-destructive tendencies, or whether it explores the limitations of trying to change too much too fast, “The Limit” explores the interstices between two contradictory self-truths: knowing it is time to move on, and feeling, deeply, that you can’t.
Later, “3243” challenges the linearity of personal growth. In unison, Cunningham and Stewart sing “filling up holes to make amends, tearing them up to start again”, leaning on repetition to hammer in an essential message: life challenges our most deeply-held self-truths. Our strength is our willingness to change.
“Fantasize Your Ghost” is a record that could not possibly anticipate our moment, but that fits into it perfectly. It’s ironic that the self Cunningham and Stewart are trying to build in “Fantasize Your Ghost” - one prepared to take spectacular advantage of an open moment, a crossroads bloated with possibility - is actually the self best prepared to navigate life’s uncertainties and come out okay.
Paralleling its theme, “Fantasize Your Ghost” also sounds more mature. Where “Parts” intended to capture the ferocity of Ohmme’s live performance, “Fantasize Your Ghost” is more produced, exploring joint songwriting more deliberately and making intricate use of overdubbing. Like before, Ohmme is willing to go to weird places, not only on standalone tracks like the industrial, futurist art-rock “Sturgeon Moon”, but on their pop tunes, too. Like "Parts", “Fantasize Your Ghost” is full of transfixing, psychedelic grooves that spit you out as quickly as they lure you in, and of acerbity, keeping any blush of contrition or humility from seeming melodramatic.
I still haven’t seen Ohmme live, and “Fantasize Your Ghost” reminds me why I want to. I was intent on chatting with Stewart about how she’s responding to a forced hiatus, not only to hear how Ohmme is navigating a record release without being able to tour, but because their most recent LP has its origins in the complicated reality of choosing the road over home, and now home has been chosen for them. She had wise words for me, words that might assuage others missing the excitement of live music: “It’s really encouraging to listen rather than just make.”
That is to say: The easiest way to find faith during this unprecedented lull is to explore what’s being made by others and let it inspire us. When asked whether she feels optimistic about the project’s future, Stewart had one thing to say: “I’m still not exhausted with ideas… The pure joy of creation is the most important thing.”
If you want to be like Macie and take this time to listen, let me suggest Ohmme’s recent discography. Start with “Parts”: Explore uncertainty and indulge anger. But when you’ve exhausted anger, boundless as it feels, and when you are ready to maybe be cajoled into believing in something again, move on to “Fantasize Your Ghost”. Listen carefully, and the words of the album’s final track will stay with you long after it’s finished: “Lonely girl, you’re enough. Take a breath, loosen up.”
It’s a tall order to stake your happiness on Ohmme’s record, but if nothing else, let it serve as a reminder that creation is boundless and reactive: It will always be there, a hole to fill and tear up.
Pia Parisi-Marcoux is a musician, organizer and researcher from Brooklyn, New York. Until recently, she was traveling the world exploring musical subcultures with a yearlong grant from the Watson Foundation, playing under her experimental pop project Apolojeesus. She recently released a single on Tides Magazine in London, UK, and plans to self-release her first LP later this summer.
Beyza Durmuş is an illustrator from Turkey. She is fascinated by faces, women and struggles in life. She believes that a “style” can be restrictive, which is why she draws like she has over a hundred personalities. You can follow her @silkmauve