Second albums can be dodgy territory, for there are so many questions of how to progress. There is a need to make it different from the first, but not to lose the people who enjoyed the debut effort. The balance between retaining an identity, but creating something that is ultimately new is no easy thing. Yet, with Odesza‘s second effort, it feels as though they have taken a fair crack at the whip and worked hard to create an album that is not a duplicate of the debut, and furthermore has a lot more mainstream appeal.
The debut album from the American electronic duo – Summer’s Gone, released back in 2012 – laid the foundations of their sound, with laid back chillwave beats it was the perfect relaxed dance album. But with In Return, everything is magnified. The beats are stronger, the melodies catchier and the need to make you dance rages strongly over the whole thing. And if you don’t fancy making a fool of yourself, it’s probably not the best album for listening to in a public place, because you will want to dance.
Take the infectiously catchy Say My Name (feat. Zyra) which samples Say My Name, but reinvents it into a whole new dancing beast of beauty. Zyra’s voice gives it this gleaming glisten of pure pop perfection, but because it is still all built around the structured beats that Odesza lay out, it sounds . The way it perfectly leads into the following track Bloom is a further example of how their way of thinking has developed and how perfectly constructed this album is.
The one thing that this album really shrieks of is a want of commercial success. The vast majority of it is more approachable and pop-friendly than their previous effort. Take All We Need (feat. Shy Girls) which sounds as though it was inspired by Chris Brown or Jason Derulo, but is thankfully saved from the thrusts of overly commercial R’n’B banishment by the way that Odesza’s sound still underlies the track, with twinkly synths and the injection of magical vocal manipulation motifs throughout. Those Odesza boys know what they are doing, and they know how to bring in popular influences without letting them completely dominate what else is going on in the music.
In fact, it’s not just R’n’B or pop that inspires episodes of this album, there are so many influences that run across it, and that is why it works so well. It takes the listener on a journey through electronic music and all that it can do. Kusanagi is a fervently chillwave track that evens out the more pop fuelled tracks, whilst Echoes (feat. Py) gives the album a glimmeringly sexy feel, as it bursts into an electronic disco ball of shimmering and twinkling mirrors. Then it all gets darker with the stripped back lo-fi number It’s Only (feat. Zyra). It’s minimal and grabs your attention, as the lyrics wring out in heartbreak – “It’s only water/It’s only fire/It’s only love. It’s only slaughter/We’re only liars/It’s only blood.”
This is an album that is made for the present moment, for this time in 2014. It gathers together many influences that make music today what it is. It experiments with textures, rhythms, voices and space, and is a further demonstration of their extraordinary ability to make great electronic music that dips and dives from ecstatic highs to stripped back darkness. In Return is uniquely magical in that respect.