Save for a passing mention of Dick Dale or the Ventures, not much is ever said about Odonis Odonis’ incorporation of surf-rock into their sound. While comparisons to shoegaze bands from The Jesus and Mary Chain to A Place to Bury Strangers are apt, on their debut record Hollandaze, there’s a significance in their use of surf-rock that goes beyond influence.
Though shoegaze and surf-rock complement one-another by referencing unique sounds from the 50s and 60s, they developed from fairly disparate origins. The shoegaze bands that are often mentioned in the same breath as Odonis Odonis are heavily indebted to Blues and Gospel traditions. Surf-rock, however, draws heavily on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean folk traditions (listen to Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” vs. “Misirlou” played in a traditional style on a Bazouki) distinguishing Odonis Odonis from the rest of the lot in a very substantial way.
The band makes the difference quite apparent: when juxtaposed, the reverberated, tremolo-heavy, surf guitar technique easily cuts through shoegaze’s drones, as evidenced on Hollandaze by tracks like “Ledged Up.”
The song climaxes as waves of industrial-sized static abound; the result of Denholm Whale’s low-end wallop colliding with Jarod Gibson’s cymbal crashes. They repeat and intensify the cacophony until Dean Tzenos’ violent guitar-work arrives to join in on the bludgeoning and offer the final blow.
The songs on Hollandaze are all fairly violent in nature, both lyrically and musically. In fact, that theme carries itself over to the band’s videos, as well as the projections that often adorn their live shows.
“I wanted people to get at a really campy-horror-feel when they hear Hollandaze.” said Tzenos, as we spoke before the Daps Records NXNE Showcase. Indeed, Hollandaze might as well have been called Blood Feast on the Beach, as the band’s use of surf guitar to punctuate moments of sheer violence and horror is echoed by their choice of visuals.
Surf music gained much of its popularity as the soundtrack to “Beach Party” films that were popular in the early 1960s. While the premises of those films started out innocent enough, filmmakers started to dabble with science fiction and horror toward the genre’s decline in popularity.
Odonis Odonis invite and encourage comparisons to those genre films by setting their own music to similarly sinister montages. The combined elements of sound and film help Odonis Odonis achieve a very uniform kind of aesthetic, one that allows for a multitude of experiences that combine to create a singular idea or image. For Tzenos, the coupling of their music with visuals was a no-brainer:
I think the music is very visual. As soon as we added the visual element to the band I think it made the vibe we’re trying to go for a bit easier to understand. I feel like it’s easier to translate what we’re doing when you can see our projections and hear the music at the same time.
Both Tzenos and Gibson come from visual arts backgrounds, making added visual elements a natural extension of the group’s talents, though music videos and live projections weren’t always their top priority. That aspect of their aesthetic has developed slowly as Tzenos explained:
You always need to take the live aspect of your music into consideration, but when this project started, there was very little consideration beyond just getting it recorded. […] I started this as a bedroom project and really didn’t know if the songs would ever be played live. At the time, I really didn’t want it to be a live project, which is funny because […] we’ve been playing live music mostly non-stop for the past year.
Odonis Odonis didn’t go from bedroom recording project to world-touring live band overnight, though they credit that rigorous touring schedule for keeping them on their toes: “you really have to hone what you do when you hit the grind like that. Sink or swim.”
That “sink or swim” kind of attitude has encouraged the band to stay open to change, and is in a sense what has helped them develop their aesthetic along the way.
It’s refreshing to see the band’s commitment to an idea evolving and taking shape, rather than trying to go in every direction. Everything they do seems to go back and reinforce the original idea.
There’s a remarkable focus to what Odonis Odonis do that doesn’t get much attention, despite so much evidence to support that claim. The band’s growth from ideas on a tape to live wrecking-ball in the matter of a year is a huge accomplishment in itself, but in that time they’ve also seen their debut record’s concept fully realize itself in a fantastic way.
This hard-working group have already made great headway, and they’re still evolving. Odonis Odonis have essentially been on tour since the debut of their album in May 2011. Showing no signs of slowing down, the band have a new album due out in the fall of this year, and already have touring plans in the works to support it. Recent live performances have also revealed another member potentially being added to the fold: guitarist Maddy Wilde (Moon King, ex-Spiral Beach). If that wasn’t enough, Tzenos revealed that albums number three and four are also currently in the works.
It remains to be seen if the subsequent records will reinforce or depart from what was built on Hollandaze, but their commitment to creating engaging and enthralling art will certainly continue.