Words by Matthew Hutchison | Photos by Brendon Crigler Photography
“Heaviness” is a term, when used in the musical sense, can mean a few different things depending on its context. For tonight’s crowd at The Regent seeing veteran drone unit, Om, that term links to mammoth guitar riffs at swelling volume levels. That type of “heavy” will not be present tonight, and everyone in the 1,100 capacity hall knows this. Om’s droning bass vibrations, Eastern-inspired keys and string work, and galloping percussion isn’t in line with how we’re conditioned to think of music with this term but stands out nonetheless in their genre. The fluid bass lines of Al Cisneros and the focused intensity of drummer Emil Amos’s parallels their separate projects (Sleep and Grails), only Om is more minimalist in volume, and it’s enough to get their point across anyone listening. Not only this, the music Om plays really shows how good these guys are at their own instruments and their technical prowess shown in their songwriting. On stage, you’re watching a band, but at the same time, you’re also watching an individual showcase of each member’s musical pedigree. Om is heavy, only in a different sense. Call it “heavy meditation music” or whatever; it’s music that mellows you out, bottom line.
To put bluntly, OM is the right therapy for anyone near/in the Los Angeles area who has to man a daily commute across either the 101 Freeway, I-5, and 10 East coming from Santa Monica to get to downtown Los Angeles.
Speaking of Los Angeles and the grinding realities of living here, the trio returns to the city as part of a nine-date US West Coast tour. Joining Om on this run is Tunisian artist, Emel Mathlouthi whose own work impacts the political and cultural state of her home country in a significant way. In late 2010 when the Arab Spring first began and the Tunisian Revolution was well underway, Mathlouthi’s protest songs (“Ya Tounes Ya Meskina,” “Kelmti Horra”) became anthems of the Tunisian revolution, which ousted then-President Ben-Ali’s 24-year government from power. Along with this revolution taking place, her work and efforts gained notoriety with viral videos of her joining demonstrators in the streets, having her own music banned from airplay in her Tunisia, and invitations to perform all over the world, including an appearance to perform her anthem “Kelmti Horra” at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize award and concert in Oslo, Norway. This appearance is her first gig in the city since playing in neighboring Echo Park at The Echo two years ago. On stage, she’s graceful yet commanding in her performance, which blends electronics with empathetic songwriting along with an accompanying sense of fashion that ties in elegantly into her performance work. While very different, sonically speaking, from Om’s realm there’s still a suitable correlation between the two group’s sounds. When pairing her music in a specific genre is subjective but it’s very dynamic, and in line with productions the legacies of Bjork and Portishead have carved out. So, how does an artist like this join the road with a group such as Om? Mathlouthi is mum on the details but expresses gratitude for the opportunity in a short pre-gig e-mail exchange. Her feelings are that both she and Om complement each other and the audience would be the right spectators for her sound (she reveals she has a background in metal with her first group, Idiom). The fact that she sings in her native language has had her tagged in the world music genre, something she expresses frustration over and wishes critics and audiences would see past. With her story, track record, performance, and manner, it’s clear Emel Mathlouthi doesn’t compromise.
A little after 9:45 p.m., Om humbly takes the stage. An instrumental intro then segues into the Lowe’s droning lead off of “Gethsemane,” the heads in the room already fixated on the three men, nodding in anticipation. Deep blue lighting covers the stage and band to the point where their features are unrecognizable, leaving a mysterious aura surrounding the three. With everyone’s eyes fixated on Cisneros presence on stage left and nodding as if under hypnosis to Amos’s cadence and the droning keys of touring member, Tyler Trotter. There’s a calming effect permeating from the room only interrupted by Amos’s rapid drum rolls, which adds intensity to the set. For the next hour or so, the three go through their back catalog of material from the eras of Drag City (God is Good, Advaitic Songs) and Southern Lord Records (Pilgrimage). The mood in the room intensifies with the group kicking into “State of Non-Return,” and the rumbling distortion Cisneros blasts with this track along with his pulsating rhythms on “Thebes,” the opener of God Is Good. To observe and report, they end up playing the entirety of God Is Good LP in non-sequential order tonight. Upon the conclusion of “State of Non-Return,” the band’s next four tracks are worldly at best and pinpoint why Om is the group they’re known as with the Eastern influence ringing throughout the room from Trotter’s end and Amos’s drum accompanying cadences. The intensity picks back up towards the end of the set with Cisneros’s pulsating bass lines and Amos’s powerful drumming on the nearly 20-minute “Thebes” and the concluding “Bhima’s Theme” from the Pilgrimage LP. Om’s work speaks for itself; minimalism achieves maximum results. While Cisneros is the central focus the group, Amos deserves as much credit and recognition for his impact on Om’s sound and is the experience that it is today, one of the more underrated drummers in underground music.
“State of Non-Return”
“Cremation Ghat I”
“Cremation Ghat II”
“Meditation Is the Practice of Death