The Blue Depths is the third Odawas album released on the Jagjaguwar label, but it is still hard to believe that all this sound and space is made by a duo. For years, Michael Tapscott and Isaac Edwards have been crafting compelling soundscapes that usually find a murky balance between the pastoral and the otherworldly. They get plenty of help in building these big sounds, mostly from sythesizers and other programming, but these songs have the kind of size and scope that seems difficult for just two people to imagine.
But where their last effort, Raven and the White Night, sounded sun-drenched and beer-tired, The Blue Depths is mining something more ethereal. The unnatural elements, the synthesizers and programming, take center stage in these compositions and render them, at least initially, as spacious and cold. Faux-strings and distant, simple drum-machine beats sound saccharine at first. In a quick listen, Tapscott’s vocals seem to float untethered over these songs. In short, The Blue Depths doesn’t reach out and grab you right away.
Of course, Tapscott and Edwards don’t seem interested in grabbing you. Rather, on The Blue Depths, these songs will grapple with you, fighting for your attention while playing by their own rules. And, if you’re willing to give this album even a little slack, it will leech into your skin the more you hear it and become more and more difficult to shake.
The album’s real success is in how it uses converging fronts. These spacey songs surround you in cold but often butt up against warm elements. The cool swell of synths on "The Case of the Great Irish Elk" part for the heated sawdust of a harmonica. The icy layers of "Our Gentle Life Together" mask a full-blooded folk number with Tapscott’s vocals, for once free of a thick coating of reverb, wailing and thick with sweat and desperate hurt. A hard-struck piano in "Secrets of the Fall" cuts through the gauzy synths with quick bursts of notes and plays nicely off a fuzzed-out and formless guitar solo.
Occasionally, like in the overextended start to "Moonlight/Twilight" and toward the end of "Harmless Lover’s Discourse," Odawas steer away from the warm moments that draw us in, or take too long to show us the beautifully placed holes in their thick constructions. But more often than not, The Blue Depths can be a mesmerizing album to listen to. Tapscott’s voice creaks with emotion, haunting these songs with a vital humanity that keeps their cold feel from being mechanical. And, along with Edwards, he has put together an album of songs that feel giant without becoming bloated, that stubbornly stick to their own swelling path but win us over in spite of themselves.