Surf-gaze/industrial punks Odonis Odonis hail from Toronto, ON, and create quite a ruckus on their self-titled album, Hollandaze. The band’s guitarist, Dean Tzenos, initially received attention from blogs because of a seven-inch and a split album with Lotus Plaza this past summer. His group’s ’90s-leaning tracks shake up the dingy hovels that Big Black, the Jesus Lizard, and Tad built in the pre-grunge era with surf rock guitars and My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegazing. Basically, it’s not an album for kicking back during a Sunday brunch. This is meant to be blasted through slightly blown-out speakers at a dingy bar or in your car doing about 90.
The hyper-kinetic genre atomizer is being released by a trio of independent Toronto labels (in addition to FatCat). Each hometown imprint plans to release Hollandaze on a different format before Tzenos streets Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled, yet another full-length, next spring through FatCat.
The tunes on both Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled and Hollandaze were part of a year-long writing stint after Tzenos was laid off from his computer animation job. Many of Hollandaze‘s eleven tracks are still in their original demo forms and the fidelity can drop in and out. Above all, this is a carefree release that is meant for our “reptilian” brain.
Hollandaze starts off strong with its title track. Tzenos’ vocals almost represents a louder the Fresh & Onlys, shot through with the dark emoting of Joy Division. It’s meant as a hazy opening salvo and it largely suceeds in its introductory endeavors. The Jesus and Mary Chain-like barnstormer “Busted Lip” shimmers and growls as Tzenos unfolds a story of a man fantasizing about words unsaid and actions not taken. It’s almost as boozy and over-the-top as the 7-inch version. The cacophony of the album take can be quite alluring as well.
The noise-infused punker “White Flag Riot” is pure adrenaline and barely makes it the two-minute mark. It’s manic and lo-fi in equal doses and represents one of the hallmarks and negatives of this debut. Tzenos ably recreates the sounds of his idols here and on “Blood Feast.” He’s at his best when he shakes up the formula by tossing in his strange molotov cocktail of surf-rock, shoegaze, and industrial noise. He’s also not much of a vocalist (see: “Blood Feast” and “New World”), even considering the genre.
He pulls it off on “Seedgazer.” It mutates Loveless’ skyscraping shoegaze with a Gregorian-like chant and dance-y, minimal backbeat. He even manages to create one of the album’s best melodies. Odonis Odonis isn’t revelatory, but it gets some things correct along the way. Mid-’80s Sonic Youth shows up on the bouncy “Handle Bars.” There are also traces of The Buzzcocks and The Shangri-Las in its DNA. Of course, Tzenos isn’t a simple copy cat. His genre experiments explore their own weird cul de sacs of sound.
“Basic Training” has a warped lead guitar and insistent bassline that propels the tune forward, and makes you forget its musical forebears. Dreamy outlier “We Are the Left Overs” could soundtrack any Occupy Wall Street protests. Its bombed-out percussion and chiming guitars lend it a foreboding pall of a demolished American (or Canadian) Dream. As with many tracks on this album, the lyrics of “Ledged Up” center on a doomed love triangle, from the perspective of a character that lives vicariously through a friend that is cheating on his significant other. During the chorus, Tzenos repeats, “You put your brain on overload.” A tunneling surf-rock guitar transmits the lovelorn message quite well. The rollicking surf jam may seem like a lark, but its subject matter (human-made ecological disasters) is quite serious. It’s a fine song, but Tzenos singing “ba-ba-ba-ba” during the chorus just feels out of place on this release.
Since recording Hollandaze, Tzenos has added Jarod Gibson (drums/electronics/vocals) and Denholm Whale (bass/vocals) to liven up his studio and tours. The added help of collaborators can only strengthen forthcoming recordings with engineer/producer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Cave Singers, Pink Mountaintops). As it stands, Odonis Odonis is a Samson-esque musical outfit with their hairs shorn. Their true power hasn’t been unleashed yet.