Under Review

Under Review: Paper Dream, Omianan

Todd McCluskie

I know nothing about jazz. In fact, my wheelhouse is mostly punk, post-punk, and guitar oriented rock; which makes Omianan’s debut album, Paper Dream, a peculiar choice for me to absorb this time out. But the genre specific music fan is clearly long gone — intermingling is no longer forbidden but encouraged. So I proceed to break free from my self imposed punk rock shackles. Freshly liberated, I cut into Omianan’s Paper Dream.

Vancouvers’s Omianan was coined as alternative rock, avant-garde, jazz, and progressive and I can readily hear all of these fine elements in this recording. Their name is actually an anagram of Nanaimo Street, where guitarist Thomas Hoeller lived. The group are true collaborators, with each musician contributing to the songwriting process. Drummer Jesus Caballero describes his emotions as driving the creativity which he translates into music. “Joy, sorrow, frustration, anger, love, depression…” This collection was released earlier this year and the quartet was nominated for Global Artist of the Year by the 2022 Western Canadian Music Awards.

The teaser for me is the appetising opener and title track “Paper Dream.” A moody dab of sour, with tender doses of psychedelia, featuring the meandering sweet sounds of vocalist Sara Kim effortlessly harvesting notes many singers can only hope for. The piece also includes the deliciously deep (upright) bass lines of Nikko Whitworth. The track is musically thoughtful and transmits hopeful chord changes in and out, slowly building  and culminating in a thick slice of lonely. 

The second offering is the mildly poppy “Relative” and the impending gloom lifts. The instrumentation is understated, complete with slithery drum kit accents and wayward lead guitar runs. Followed by “At Last it Rained” (the longest song at 7:44) which begins with a somewhat experimental rain drop soundscape intro, a dominant melodic effort; the song seeps into some jazzy avant-garde free form nooks and crannies. “Forgotten Sibling” highlights a crushing drumbeat and we toggle to and from the borders of alternative and jazz. The cutting guitar hook is reminiscent of Yes’ six-string master Steve Howe. Next “Is There Stress in Your Heart?” features a cool jazz riff where the rhythm section is really hitting full stride. We wind down with “Bent but Not Broken,” leaning slightly more on the experimental side of things with a sort of progressive jazz vibe. The closer, “Punishment,” does not stray from Omianan’s stellar musicianship that is present within these grooves. Sara Kim’s haunting, angelic vocals near the final stage has a majestic, spiritual tinge to it. Her clear, forceful tone pushes her voice to a ferociously sublime destination. A blissful, remote and secret discovery we should all quietly pursue.

For me the strength of this album is the journey that is bookended by the two most enduring tracks: the sullen lullaby “Paper Dream” and the desperate finality of “Punishment.” 

As a self proclaimed jazz rookie Omianan is a lengthy sonic departure for me. This newfound jazz universe is like discovering a glorious undisclosed rogue planet. The flip-flop between genres and contrast between my punk rock slant and jazz leanings is almost like living a double life. The problem with that is that sooner or later you get found out.

 “Now I am left alone/But I’ve got, my paper dream”