Review Summary: Drawing the shadesOnism
is nothing which it seems to be. It’s not the swath of bleary, overcast skies that its monochrome cover would suggest, nor does it ever actually feel like an apt representation of the title it bears. As a concept, Onism defines the frustration one feels of being stuck in their own body and the dread of being bound to the arbitrary physical space around them by that feeling. The realization of only ever experiencing a slice of a fraction of what the world has to offer; an isolation by something inherent in only being able to occupy one space. A forced insularity. You are here
But the album Onism
is not that; Photay seems unconcerned with the actual concept or, perhaps more likely, actively rejects its negative connotations entirely. His work here is generally such that it seems almost universal in its reach, what with its watercolor swirl of diverse electronic styles and erratic bursting of textures from every which way. However, it’s probably most difficult to take the title at face value simply because his music is presented in such a lighthearted, imaginative manner at every turn. Take “The Everyday Push,” where the joyful interplay between bouncy xylophone melodies and laid-back drum clacks moves the song forward, lazily, happily, until it’s threatened by the entrance of an off-kilter version of itself. He gradually adjusts this new pattern in and out of focus until a wild clash of horns and distortion suddenly resets it all back to a cheerfully indifferent stroll, as if nothing ever happened. Photay utilizes moments like this throughout Onism
in a way which seems to portray the oddities of his world with such carefree whimsy, like spending a sunny day at any ordinary park, just sitting, observing passersby – imagining yourself in each persons’ shoes and conjuring fantastical stories about their daily lives.
The outliers to this formula lie in the moody sway of “Storm” and its evocative follow-up, “Outré Lux.” The latter contains the sole feature on Onism
(credits to Madison McFerrin), which makes for a gorgeous centerpiece to break things up. McFerrin’s voice injects the song with the qualities of some old blues number – something starry-eyed and wistful, but long forgotten, told under the heat of a bright spotlight; like a single body illuminated in an otherwise sparsely lit club, a place sheltered from time and unaffected by the bustling world around it. It’s a song of romance and confusion, transposed to the here and now via Photay’s delicate blend of woozy synth pulses with glitchy, spattered beats. It sounds like some sort of extruded piece of Onism
, sticking out defiantly by means of its own obliqueness, yet in a way which represents its surrounding context rather than overshadowing it. Ultimately, the song is an embodiment of his own talent, serving as both a characterization of his ability to layer unlike elements so seamlessly and an embrace of a style and presence which seems wholly inimitable.
Thinking back, perhaps my original assessment of his titling of the album is all wrong though. Maybe it’s not about ignorance or rejection, but simply acceptance; accepting and embracing our place in the world, our own insignificance, our relationships, experiences, struggles and successes, losses and gains. A reminder not to worry so much, that there’s already so much more life and imagination to take from our everyday worlds than we may realize – so why not face it with a smile? Besides, being stuck in one place isn’t so bad when something like Onism