Sometimes old men talk about rock ’n’ roll still, usually about whether it’s still worth talking about at all. The other day one of my fellow old men, a dad, complained about how there doesn’t seem to be any legit 21st century rock music, how even the good stuff is pretty much just nostalgia, hat tips and retro vibes. We weren’t talking about Omni, but he’d maybe put ‘em in that pile, because they play guitars and focus on rhythm and melody and record everything a little hot and fuzzy. I wouldn’t write them off as a tribute act or anything, though, because they have the key traits that guarantee success in any era, the most important of which is personality.
The Atlanta band’s first album Deluxe sounds familiar without sounding too much like any other specific band. Omni pulls from some obvious forebears—Television, the fellow Georgians in Pylon, the Feelies—to craft something that’s instantly recognizable as Omni. It’s lo-fi without being murky or even all that noisy—every instrument and vocal line comes through clearly, with only the rare cymbal crash washing everything out. The guitar is crisp and precise, cutting from complicated melodic lines to spiky chords on songs like “Wire” and “78,” and the bass regularly stakes out distinct melodic turf that consistently complements the guitar. They’re not quite on the level of the Minutemen when it comes to starkly differentiating the three corners of a power trio, but all three players are crucial and on the same tier, building instantly memorable pop songs through complex and rigorous instrumentation. With its urgency and its kaleidoscopic approach to melody, where it sounds like shards of different songs are carefully reassembled into a new cohesive whole, Deluxe reminds me a lot of Iceage’s exhilarating first album, only without the hardcore muscle.
“Omni” is a word with a history in Atlanta, of course. The old Omni Coliseum was both the home of the Hawks and the “Wrestling Mecca of the South,” the site of countless legendary NWA and WCW battles. In 1983 Buzz Sawyer and Tommy “Wildfire” Rich lit up the Omni with a bloodfest known as the Last Battle of Atlanta, which should be the name of a garage band fest at the Highland Ballroom or 529 that Omni could headline. It’s also where two entire generations of North Georgia teens saw their first major rock’n’roll concerts. The Omni was torn down in 1997, just a few weeks before the longtime Braves and Falcons home Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and the word itself is inherently nostalgic, at least for people from Georgia. It’s like the members of Omni are signaling upfront that, yes, they agree with the old man rock fans that this music is inherently nostalgic at this point. They realize, though, that that doesn’t mean they have to churn out the tired and overly familiar. They might be going down the same hallway as countless bands before them, but there are a lot of doors that haven’t been opened yet. You can’t separate this band from nostalgia, and although that might seem like a crutch to some, it can be a major point of interest for others, especially when it’s done as well as it is on Deluxe.