Odesza returns with its long-anticipated third album, a body of work filled with longing, nostalgia, hope and unity. Titled A Moment Apart, these 16 tracks mark the next step in the evolution of production duo Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, who have been making music together since their college days at Western Washington University.
They began their meteoric journey in 2012 with Summer’s Gone, an album they completed near the end of their tenure at Western. It was followed by 2014’s In Return, which debuted at the top of Billboard’s Dance/Electronic charts and featured gold single “Say My Name.” A remix of the track by RAC was later nominated for a Grammy in 2016.
In the course of that five-year span, they’ve gone from ground zero to selling out large arenas, all without the benefit of mainstream press or radio airplay. They’ve built their appeal through word of mouth and streaming, plus a unique live presentation featuring an 11-piece ensemble that includes a horn section and a marching-band drumline.
A Moment Apart moves into expanded sonic and psychic territory, seamlessly balancing organic and layered synthetic sounds, creating a dreamy, often stirring hybrid that owes as much to Motown and ‘60s surf music as it does to electronic forebears such as Four Tet, M83, Gorillaz and Bonobo.
But it’s not just the duo’s uncanny technical acumen at manipulating sounds that has landed ODESZA in the upper stratum of electronic music. Their immense impact stems from the emotions they elicit from their captured and constructed sounds: the powerful synths, the dynamic chord progressions that open into sweeping cinematic soundscapes and shimmering sonics, punctuated by ecstatic, thumping percussion.
Mills and Knight have always been leaders in the revolution of indie electronic music, encompassing a wider, more melodic musical palette and incorporating their own instrumental expertise – Harrison and Clay play piano, and Clay also plays guitar. On the new album they take their eclecticism one step further, using a stellar range of singers, including Regina Spektor, Leon Bridges, and RY X.
Also prominent is the exquisite symmetry they’re able to fashion through an unexpected harmony of diverse parts.
“I think our greatest strength is in blending genres,” says Mills, "be it soul, folk, film scores or electronic…I also think we’re really good at finding sounds that shouldn’t work together and making them fit. I like taking a voice or maybe an instrument, chopping them up into small pieces until they’re almost unrecognizable, and mostly incoherent, and then layering them over each other to create a unique tone and sound. It allows us to take pieces from many different styles of music and meld them together to create something that is our own.”
Symmetry and balance is equally important for Knight, who has a degree in physics and math and never planned on pursuing a career in music.
“I was planning on going to grad school for computational finance. What connects that with what I do now always goes back to the idea of symmetry,” he explains. “When a song is really well done, everything fits. It’s all complementary. Having symmetry in sound is very pleasing to someone’s subconscious. They don’t know why they like it, but they like it. There’s not a specific formula that you can follow, but there are patterns that you can see. Classic tracks that people love have certain distinctive patterns that can be seen across all forms of music. We’re always trying to see what sounds create certain emotive responses.”
Mills adds, “What I really like about what we do is that we evoke this sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia to me is like instant emotion. I might hear something and think ‘this reminds me of my childhood.’ Or ‘this one reminds me of that road trip.’ A lot of times, if we’re making a piano line, we think of something like, ‘How can we get that warmth of an old soul record?’ Sometimes I think it’s building almost false memories for people. Almost tricking people into thinking that something seems familiar but it really isn’t.”
The memories this time out often spring from the Northwest, a place where both ODESZA members have lived since childhood.
“We’re known for making happy music,” says Knight. “Although Harrison is always trying to slip dark stuff into our music. This time he succeeded. Our album isn’t sad … ”
“But it sees the beauty in those moments” says Mills.
“This is probably the most Northwest album we’ve ever made,” continues Mills. “It plays to the more overcast days than any of our other music has before. I don’t like pointing out the dark elements without pointing out that the darkness is a positive thing too. That’s the whole point of this album — and I hate this phrase — seeing the beauty in the darkness. It’s finding that sad songs can make you really happy. Everyone’s felt sad at some point. I think sometimes we ignore those feelings, and I think part of growing up and getting perspective is being able to see that those things are what life is about, and to appreciate those things even if they are painful.”
“I think there is a lot of longing on this album,” adds Mills. “Especially ‘Everything At Your Feet’ which is about a breakup and missing someone and wearing your heart on your sleeve. But all the tracks have an element of longing in them. ‘Just A Memory,’ with Regina Spektor, certainly. While ‘Falls’ is about feeling the kinship and community, and realizing that feeling bad about something is actually okay.”
Alternatively pensive, introspective, thoughtful, and triumphant, but ultimately jubilantly anthemic, A Moment Apart nudges listeners through a gamut of the self-discoveries that can only occur when you takes a moment to step outside yourself and look in.
“We decided to call the album A Moment Apart since it has those darker overtones we hadn’t used before. We were trying to think what represents the time you grow the most, and to me you grow the most in a moment away from all the noise,” explains Mills. “When you have a moment to reflect is when you form your strongest opinions and effect your greatest changes and growth.”
“I think the name and the album itself are not so much about isolation as the internal energy, something that happens from within when you step back from everything,” adds Knight.
Which is something the two of them did after touring relentlessly for the past four years, with few breaks.
“I think about it like being at a party and walking outside and looking out at the moon. That’s a beautiful moment and one you experience by yourself,” adds Mills.
“I remember when we first started out, my goal was to make music I felt like I could dance to and play in my car and still wear my headphones and have a personal experience with,” he continues. “Something you can put on at a party with your friends, and everyone enjoys it, but also have a very intimate approach with it. That hasn’t changed for me in the past five years.
“It’s up to us to try to evoke emotion, not decide what it is. If they hate it, they hate it. If they love it, then they love it.
Knight and Mills, who write continually, finished the ominous yet euphoric “Line Of Sight” while they were in Australia in April 2016. But the real work on the album began when they got home to Seattle toward the end of the year.
“We really buckled down for the next six or seven months in the ODESZA /Foreign Family Collective studio during the longest, darkest winter I’ve ever experienced in Washington,” says Knight.
But despite the bleakness of the weather, A Moment Apart is airy and triumphant, filled with possibility and a sense of infectious hope, and an interesting and overweening symmetry.
“We finished ‘Intro’ and ‘Corners Of The Earth’ first, and decided they would be the album’s first and last song,” begins Mills.
“Those two songs embodied what we were hoping the album would turn out to be,” Knight finishes, as is often the case with these two.
The album represents a well-considered step forward for ODESZA. “Our first album was about discovering our sound,” Mills says. “The second one was us trying to do something new with it and becoming more songwriters than instrumentalists, and this one was understanding what we do and trying to push it.”
It’s ODESZA’s most ambitious album, yet also their most human one, despite the futuristic found sounds and cinematic sweeps and flourishes. Their goals for the album are sonically grand yet surprisingly modest.
“The album’s really about coming full circle and finding balance in both the sadness and the beauty. But mostly, we just want people to feel something when they listen,” says Mills. “It’s emotive music.”
“The album’s about perspective, and it’s about changing your perspective and not looking at something just at surface level. If there’s a theme of the album, that’s it.”