Imagine if you can that it’s the late ’70s. You and your buddies are in your last year at a liberal arts college and you’ve collectively come to the realization that your degrees in English and Philosophy are likely to get you nowhere. So obviously, you form a band. But here’s the thing: You have neither the sex appeal of The Stones nor the edge of The Stooges, so your music ends up falling into a weird pocket. You’ve got hyper-intelligent social critiques, cutting guitar riffs, and just enough edge to get you into the dingy NYC clubs—maybe even CBGB, as seedy as it was. This marked the birth of post-punk and you were at the vanguard.
Now 50 years after it began, Omni is boldly carrying the post-punk torch into a current array of modern challenges with Networker, their third record and first for the legendary Sub Pop label.
The first thing you notice when digging into the Atlanta duo’s succinct 30-minute record is how mathematical it feels. On the opener, “Sincerely Yours,” the few musical elements that Omni presents us with all churn forward with calculated cohesion. The spaces left by each plucked bass note are filled by snare hits, which are in turn accented by jagged guitar strums. The song advances like clockwork and manages to transmit rhythmic bliss with minimal components.
While the biting guitar leads throughout Networker bring Omni’s sound to the border of punk, singer Philip Frobos’ nonchalant vocal delivery acts as a cooling agent, leading the band back into calm territories. He stoically delivers his share of enigmatic lines like “I only kiss the guardrail / It’s a steady pursuit” on “Underage” and “My heart is flat like a valentine” on “Flat Earth.” His half-spoken inflection draws immediate comparison to Television’s eccentric vocalist Tom Verlaine.
While much of Omni’s persona can be attributed to a past era, they manage to blend the influence of their predecessors with a presentation distinct to their modern platform. The cosmic, synth-driven “Networker” shows them exploring a bridge between punk and glimmering indie-rock styles. The record brings in modern themes as well, particularly on the soaring “Skeleton Key,” when Frobos explores the pitfalls of online dating: “If you don’t like what you see / The presentation of me / The pretty face on the screen / Oh, scroll on by,” he dispassionately sings. Romance has become utterly superficial and “Skeleton Key” charmingly reveals the absurdity of it all.
Chasing down the distinct sound of a past musical movement is a risky undertaking. Without a strong individualistic approach in mind, you risk sounding wholly derivative (looking at you, Greta Van Fleet) and losing your band’s image within one that doesn’t belong to it. But when a group can locate the sweet spot where influence meets forward progression, the result is a record as nostalgic as it is relevant.
Omni’s Networker is one of these cases. At only 30-minutes long, Omni manages to pack in a vast number of carefully-arranged flourishes. Networker stands on its own, but look carefully and you’ll find the homages the first iterations of post-punk with CBGB at the epicenter. And though CBGB has been closed for quite some time, it’s easy to picture Omni’s own brand of incisive rock reverberating through the club’s wonderfully grimy walls.