Review Summary: It's only water, It's only fire, It's only love...
When US Electro-Duo ODESZA first hit the scene with their debut album „Summer’s Gone” back in 2012, it was met with cautiously favorable reviews and definitely attracted some fans, but hardly anyone touted them as “the next big thing”. Although there was a lot to like about “Summer’s Gone” accessible, warm-sounding textures and reverbed synths, the Duo failed to really standout among the growing number of promising electro-acts. 2 years (1 album, a very strong showing at Coachella and very successful ongoing tour) later things are looking mighty different for Clayton Knight and Harrison Mills. With the release of their second album “In Return” the Band takes a few steps in the right direction and are now quickly gathering a cult following and looking primed for a big breakthrough.
The opening hand claps, jittery guitar and high pitched vocal sample on “Always this late” will immediately sound familiar to those who already heard their debut. ODESZA have not changed the base formula of their style. Instead they added a lot of new things to it and carefully improved upon it, which ultimately elevates “In Return” above “Summer’s Gone”. The most notable change is that “In Return” features just about as many guests as your favorite hip-hop album and more than half of the songs are not merely instrumentals mixed with some vocal samples. ODESZA made the smart decision to include up and coming vocalists like Zyra and Jenni Pots on the album. By doing that, the Duo perfectly accompanies their usually relatively straightforward and simple tracks and spice up the whole album with some much needed variety. Lead single “Say My Name” exemplifies just how much ODESZA is able to gain from including a singer. The two DJs provide a pretty simple, yet highly enjoyable framework for Zyra to shine. What would have been merely a filler track with some nice ideas and clever arrangements on its own, becomes an early highlight on a very strong album. Even though not every one of the vocalists delivers an outstanding performance like Zyra, none of them feel out of place or distracting.
While the addition of various talented vocalists definitely helped, it would be a disservice to ODESZA to reduce the improvements they made to this decision alone. Looking at the tracks that don’t feature a vocalist, it quickly becomes obvious that the band let go of a habit that plagued “Summer’s Gone”. Instead of plastering thick beats and synths above every good idea and nice melody, “In Return” shows a remarkable amount of restraint in that regard and as a result the whole album sounds a lot cleaner and tighter. The Duo realized that a song does not need to blast at full throttle the whole running time and that not every song on an album necessarily has to be danceable. Take two of the more impressive no-vocalist pieces “Kusanagi” and “Koto” for example. “Kusanagi” starts out with some somber drones and very gently builds a nice atmosphere on some impressively detailed sampling; before finally culminating in an almost ethereal chant. “Koto” on the other hand leads off with an Arabic-sounding sample and crisp drumming which immediately grab your attention before the trademark chillwave synth’s kick in. Instead of drowning the neat ideas established in the intro in a massive wall of sound, the duo manages to stay clear of that trap and instead provide a very satisfying song.
“In Return” is a hotchpotch of different ideas in the most positive sense of the word, the band mashes up distinctly exotic vocal samples and rhythms with sounds that could stem from the 8-bit video game era and somehow make it seem natural. Everything is held together by a very warm and welcoming overall sound. One exception would be the darker “It’s Only”, which provides a welcome change of sound. If I had to point out something negative, it would be that the album maybe overstays its welcome a bit, especially considering that the last two songs are among the weaker cuts of the LP.