I’ve been meaning to write about this EP by Seattle’s Ocelot Omelet for months, and finally kicked myself in the ass hard enough to get it done (I blame my delay on fear of suffering a hamstring injury). It’s different in some ways from most of the music we cover at NCS, but despite my tunnel-visioned, metal-only approach to what I usually consume, I’ve enjoyed it so much that not writing about it would be… immoral.
The EP is entitled Present In the Dark and it consists of three songs, one of which simply has a question mark for its title. I know some people find genre labels useful, but when I try to think of them in this case, a question mark is what comes to mind first, because trying to affix labels to this music isn’t easy. But to make a stab at it, I’d say it’s like a mash-up (and a seamless one) of throwback psychedelia, sludgy stoner doom, and progressive rock, swimming in a dark narcotic haze.
“Out of the Frying Pan and Into Another Frying Pan” is the catchiest and most “accessible” of the three songs — at least after the squeal and drone of feedback and the squalling, shrieking sounds of the guitar in the song’s intro. After that, the music really starts to roll, with fat sludgy riffs and drum and bass lines that you can feel in your spine.
The song is embedded with big, infectious hooks and energized by high, gritty, wailing vocals that echo across the top of the music. Before it ends, you’re treated to a reverberating guitar solo that skitters and blazes and a prog-styled instrumental workout that proves you’re dealing with people who are really adept in their instrumental skill as well as being creative songwriters.
That song with the question mark for a title comes next, and it’s a huge, lumbering, fuzz-bombed stomp, shot through with guitar leads that alternately writhe like serpents and drift like ghostly spirits. It builds and transforms into an intense romp, driven by clattering drums, bounding bass, and demented guitar chords, before slamming back again into that head-busting stomp.
The final track, “Present In the Dark”, is the most ambitious and the most demanding. Over the course of its 10 1/2 minutes the band move from echoing guitar notes that ring out over booming drum beats and heavy bass notes into an almost stately procession, with deep, grinding riffs and hard-hitting percussive rhythms. In the following section, the music becomes more quiet, the guitar chords softer and more ethereal, the vocals more soulful, before the music builds again in intensity with thick, sludgy riffs returning like the herald of doom.
In the song’s mid-section, the guitar spits a prolonged stream of feedback while the rhythm section hammers out a complex pattern, and the music moves into a head-nodding, almost ritualistic loop while the drummer takes center stage in a riveting workout. The reverberating guitar climbs an eerie scale, and the band really start to rock out in an intense finish.
Present In the Dark may be difficult to capture with well-understood labels, but that’s a big part of why it’s such an interesting EP. It’s heavy as lead, as trippy as mushrooms, both crushing and spacey, and well worth your time.
Present In the Dark was recorded and mixed by Seattle music icon Jack Endino. The EP can be digitally downloaded or ordered on transparent green, transparent orange, or standard black 12″ vinyl (which will also get you a download code) via Bandcamp. And of course you can stream the songs below.
P.S. I delayed posting the review today because I wanted to add this postscript first. After finishing the review, I spent last night and the early hours of this morning at a celebration of the life of Archie Jones at Seattle’s Highline bar (who generously made the venue available for the event on short notice). Archie was a friend of mine, though I didn’t know him nearly as well as I wish I had, and not nearly as well as the large circle of people who packed Highline last night and whose lives he blessed with his presence. He died unexpectedly last week at the age of 35.
Six groups performed at last night’s tribute, and they were all just amazing. The passion they felt for Archie came through strongly in their performances. Too late, I wish we had made arrangements to record the show, but I know it will be a vivid memory for those who were there in any event.
By coincidence, one of the bands who performed was Ocelot Omelet — or at least two-thirds of Ocelot Omelet. Given the short notice, their drummer couldn’t make it, and so bassist/vocalist Os and guitarist Whiz performed two long, largely improvisational pieces that they had never played publicly before; actually, given their improvisational nature, I guess what we heard had never been performed anywhere before.
The first song was heavier than anything I’ve heard from them before, and really powerful stuff. The guitar and bass took turns with the lead, playing off of each other, moving the song from passages of darkness and sorrow to moments of light and quiet. It felt both harrowing and transcendent, like the journey of a life. The second song was also compelling, with a bass melody that seemed almost like dark folk music as it appeared during the evolution of the song.
Maybe someday Os and Whiz will try to recapture in the studio what they did last night, or at least something similar to it. I sure hope they do. It showed a different side of their talents, and one that should be shared beyond the people lucky enough to witness it last night. In due course, I’ll have more to say about the other bands who performed.
R.I.P. Archie. More people loved you than you probably knew. You will be deeply missed.