ODESZA – The Last Goodbye

Potentially the modern electronic act with the biggest cult following, Washington DJ duo ODESZA have been out of the spotlight for nearly 5 years after hitting #3 on the charts with A Moment Apart – save for an uneven team-up with Golden Features as Bronson back in 2020. Known primarily for their sweeping, awestruck world-building and dominance of the indietronica and chillwave subgenres, ODESZA have opted to go in a slightly different direction on their latest effort, The Last Goodbye. The sound of the project is much gloomier, the vocals based much more around samples than featured artists, while the tempos, somewhat paradoxically, get a little more upbeat. The message seems to be as positive as the music used to evoke without words, though tinged for the first time with the pain of the last couple years – ODESZA seems to be celebrating the fact that there’s no such thing as a “last goodbye,” but the goodbye is still felt. The duo still has a stadium-sized talent for captivating soundscapes that’s emphasized quite often on this project, but it feels like a step away from their greatest strengths.

The project opens with a literal therapy session, apparently recorded three years ago and set to calming pianos. Building up to a synth cascade, a voice tells listeners to imagine a better version of themselves. A nice transition leads us into “Wide Awake,” which brings Charlie Houston on board for an angelic and entrancing high soprano vocal performance as she walks us through an emotionally confused post-COVID love story. It’s the best part of the track as a whole, because the instrumental behind her feels abundantly normal for ODESZA’s standards, with your typical pounding synth chords and shuffling beat that you’d hear at any club. Still, the vocal sample, slightly muted and interspersed into the drop is an interesting moment that makes it feel like the real feelings are being suppressed and fighting to come out. “Love Letter” picks the energy up in a big way and feels like the best combination of ODESZA’s old and new musical approaches. If you can get past the first couple seconds of the gravelly, squeaky vocal that loop throughout the track, the build-up makes it all worthwhile. The duo’s trademark creeping synth lines begin sneaking into the track under a drum n’ bass pattern before a glitchy, future-bass style drop. The Knocks are along for the ride, bringing ODESZA into a poppier territory, but the multitude of fun modulations and quirks in the background make this one engaging throughout. The next track, “Behind the Sun,” is fascinating simply because it’s built around an echoey, vintage-sounding sample of an Iranian song from 1974, sung in the Persian language. The drop sounds like a Christopher Nolan movie trailer, with massive drum hits and dramatic orchestral stabs.

For all the moments across this project where it feels like ODESZA is veering closer than ever to the trendy, club-ready middle ground, a great guest vocalist can really elevate things. British singer Izzy Bizu is one of those on “Forgive Me,” which opens with the same bouncy synth-bass tones you’ve heard too often but is taken to new heights by Bizu’s soaring tone as she pleads for a chance at love – hearing her interact with ODESZA’s pitched-up samples of some of her most impressive vocal runs really brings out the tangible desperation. Quite a few times on this project it feels like ODESZA is trying to emulate others’ style – “Love Letter” feels like a Flume track, while this one is very Kygo – but it’s impressive that they’re able to morph through the styles so well. A track like “Better Now,” on the other hand, is one of the four moments with new vocals that falls flat. Inviting Portuguese Eurovision rep MARO, her heavy vocal layering is intriguing but she remains in a comfort zone while delivering some inspirational platitudes about risk-taking over a beat that doesn’t catch the eye – it’s essentially a discount version of the excellent “Falls,” with Sasha Alex Sloan, off their last album. In between the two is “North Garden,” which relies on a jam-session style big-beat groove – it’s a highlight from an instrumental standpoint, but it feels like it clashes a little with the high-pitched, looping vocal sample and a switch-up on the end dims the vibe.

The centerpiece of the album when it comes to ODESZA’s sampling work is the 6-minute title track, which lifts a vocal line from a soul legend in Bettye LaVette straight out of 1965. Another great combo between the new and the old styles of the duo, it combines the more straightforward, driving beat with the entrancing, revelatory tone of the past, something that fits the gritty, soulful belts of LaVette all too well. The switch-up to a funkier, bass-driven section in the middle is another highlight, as they make it easy to get lost in the shifting soundscape. The project’s final moments are dotted with a couple more solo cuts that are majority instrumental, which can function as great ambience but mostly just breeze past to an active listener. “All My Life” contains a more engaging chilled-out harp instrumental, while “I Can’t Sleep” is the most nondescript track here. The worst offender is “Healing Grid,” which feels like a little bit like a distorted Christmas song. The highlights at the end include a feature from the always-striking Lapsley on “Equal,” despite a bit of an overbearing, siren-heavy beat behind her, and the 7-minute closer “Light of Day,” a collaboration with Icelandic ambient titan Olafur Arnalds that feels like it sums up the album’s mission statement well – the simple thump of a bassline periodically breaks up a somber soundscape and a pensive vocal sample in the back, giving the energy of being down but knowing we have to keep going.

The Last Goodbye doesn’t have as many of the memorable hooks or shimmering, cinematic moments as their previous album, but it succeeds most at tying things together in a concept that will likely hit home for quite a few listeners. While they might have lost some of their distinctive features in the process, it should still be a great listen for electronic fans.

Favourite Tracks: Forgive Me, Love Letter, The Last Goodbye, Behind The Sun

Least Favourite Track: Healing Grid

Score: 6/10

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