The Upshot: Female singer-songwriter duo finds an odd, intriguing balance between pretty melody and confrontation.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Ohmme plays radical games with the notion of female-singer-songwriter pop, with songs that use alternative vocal techniques, mood shifts and wild dynamic swings to upend any preconceptions you might have about tight-harmony, acoustic guitar duos. The Chicago-based duo of Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham, in various capacities, have backed Second City luminaries from Chance the Rapper to Wilco to Twin Peaks to Whitney. Here on their debut EP, the two find an odd, intriguing balance between pretty melody and confrontation. You are never quite sure where you stand or what’s coming at you.
Consider the opener, “Woman,” with its slow twitch of electric guitar, its soft, slyly syncopated vocal line which traces a he said/she said narrative of inter-gender disconnection. Wry, intelligent, not too noisy female-oriented pop, a la Regina Spector, am I right? I am not. The shift comes in the sudden percussive “ah ah ah ah ah” vocal break, which pounds like an avant garde hammer through the verse, as a slumberous guitar wakes in a rumble of feedback. And then just as unexpectedly, the song falls back to a murmur, only to swing wide open again in a woozy psychedelic interlude. The dynamic range is canyon wide, the vocals unexpected. It’s the kind of song you can’t figure out right away but worry at with repeated, obsessive listens.
Similarly, “Furniture” begins in moody introspection, the two women breathing staccato reveries between widely spaced keyboard notes. But here, too, there’s a dramatic break, an irregular guitar riff, a build of hiss and roar and a melodic break powered by pure psych-pop joy, a la Olivia Tremor Control. It’s like a Russian nesting doll, a song within a song, but the one inside is somehow bigger than the packaging.
Each of six cuts is distinct and fascinating, whether the relatively straightforward finger-picking folk rock of “Ithaca” or the piercingly rueful “Bully Clouds” (with the arresting line, “You’re happier when we are dying”), or the long radiant closer “You, Your Face” which has the otherworldly aura of certain Laura Gibson songs. None of these tunes are easy or obvious. They all take some work to get inside of, but oh how nice it is when you get there.
DOWNLOAD: “Woman,” “Furniture”