Under Review

author
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”

Kitty’s Prozac’s new release None Shall be Afraid is an album that sounds like it’s meant to be played on the Walkman of an angsty skater girl in 2007, but is still at home in 2022 on computer speakers. The album is fittingly available on cassette and digital release.

Cathy Schultes (Kitty) leads the album, featuring Jillian Brave on bass and Penelope Parker on drums, infusing it with her own experiences as a trans woman. Kitty’s past releases, pandemos (vol.1) and My Side of the Split, both self-released on Bandcamp, include acoustic and early versions of many of the tracks that made it into the polished None Shall be Afraid release. It’s a bold, unapologetic work that touches upon the personal identity crisis we all experience in our youth — her own includes a journey of coming out and facing mental health issues and trauma. Kitty sings of the complexities of young relationships and how they change, disappear, and blossom as we age. You can tell right away that the album is full of catharsis — it’s a labour of love that’s taken years to craft.

I was most struck by Kitty Prozac’s ability to pull me back to my own teenagehood, to that visceral emotional rollercoaster I’m now glad to be clear of. It’s a pure nostalgia trip contained within the 46 minutes of the album, and it’s a bittersweet goodbye at the end. Like most people, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to those coming-of-age years, but the struggles of those times still linger or even grow for many of us. This is the sentiment Kitty Prozac has diluted into a cool 10 tracks of wistful pop punk. The drum beats are strong, ever-present and foot stomping. The bass lines are creatively woven in, and even featured in smooth solos. But above all, the shredding and guitar solos are nothing short of immaculate. It’s a love letter to forgotten indie pop punk of the 2000s.

Lyrically, Kitty lingers on themes of loneliness, anger, identity (especially queer identity), and self-actualization. This last one particularly comes through in “Just the One of Us.” A shifting melody that slowly builds into a crescendo of intense validation, pulling no punches with its loud, emotional release. It’s a track that sings directly to the experience of coming out into a queer identity — as Kitty sings: “Ive got a dress in my bag and a door in my face!”

My favourite track was “Vacation Song” — an angry and sad lament about relationships, and the feeling of being left behind. The first verse of the song details the experience of being a kid and learning about someone, a friend perhaps, moving to a different school without you — an experience that many of us have had, perhaps our earliest ‘break up’ even. The song’s intensity builds to a beautiful screaming chorus: “You know until you don’t know / You know until you don’t know / You know until you don’t know / And then they’re gone! / Well I figured someday I’ll stop getting thrown away / I just didn’t think it would take so long!” With this first resounding chorus, we understand that the sentiment goes beyond a simple school change — there’s a story here, a thread of relationship complexity, sadness, and heartbreak that Kitty is going to share with us.

Kitty’s emotionally charged lyrical performance will have the listener digging deep into their own coming-of-age struggles. Whether those include coming out, facing adversity and trauma, or simply the anxieties of passing from teenagehood to adulthood in the 2nd Millennium. Turn it up to 11 and make your neighbours angry, it’s worth it for this one.