Cullen Omori Solo Album: A (Small) Step Away From Smith Westerns

By Jacob Fox, staff writer

Former Smith Westerns lead singer Cullen Omori finally pulled himself out of coma-like silence. A little more than a year ago, Omori and his then-bandmate Max Kakacek found themselves at fatal odds with each other, clashing over the artistic directions for a follow-up to 2013’s “Soft Will.”  Unable to reconcile those differences, Kakacek grabbed drummer Julien Ehrlich to whip up ideas for their new project, Whitney, whose upcoming album still awaits details beyond a single.  Omori parted ways and the band announced an “indefinite hiatus,” capping their teens-turned-famous story with a cracked window for an unlikely future. At the age of 25, without a degree but enough dough to stay afloat in Chicago, Omori fell back into the comfort of the usual: drugs and alcohol.  Bandless, indulgent, and feeling quite useless, he settled into an uncomfortable new misery, an inspiration and motivation for the early spring release.

From the start, the sound recaptures the essence of Smith Westerns’ synthetic pop sounds.  “No Big Deal” introduces hints of nightmare to the formerly teen-dream tunes of his older works.  From distorted guitars to deep bass percussions, all falls into the same full-bodied, simplistic thump, all the while with Omori’s long circulating vocals on the surface.  Aspiring towards the mind-numbing pop choruses that everyone mindlessly follows, songs like “Two Kinds” employ familiar “do-do-do’s” alongside belabored catchphrases.  Unique to Omori’s style, however, the hooks pull us down to grip something deeper beneath the candy-colored fantasies of teenage pop music.

It all picks up to the light-hearted fun of young flares remembered in “Hey Girl,” which bounces with the bliss of children caught in a careless air of  ignorance.  Stealing patterns from the once-popular “3am spiritual,” the tempo shatters into a profound cycle claiming to hold “all the time in the world,” a heavy timelessness induced by a shake and wink, something otherwise meaningless upon the grounds of adulthood.  

Yet Omori appears to wrestle with sober realities more common for his years.  Consequently, his focus frets in a fit between emotionally polar ideas: the image of lovely sun-kissed skin that “tastes like cin-cinnamon”  contrasts with the title track’s reflections of failure and selfishness.  

Perhaps with “New Misery,” Omori has only dipped his feet into new waters without actually jumping in.  While he introduces notions of a “next stage,” he keeps most of his old sounds, the same techniques, and familiar motifs.  The album reflects a confusion amidst maturity; seemingly Omori turned towards songwriting as his solution to reconcile competing stories within the diametrical shift between two epochs of life.

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