Eight years ago, when electronic duo Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, better known as Odesza, released their breakout album In Return, EDM was just finding its groove.
Most millennials or older members of Gen Z can remember when iconic tracks “Sun Models” featuring Madelyn Grant and “Say My Name” featuring Zyra rightfully dominated every video on Tumblr. Both songs serve as a time capsule: Their feminine vocals, lighthearted instrumentals and woozy disposition represent the fleeting feelings of adulthood that have since come to define the genre.
Over the years, electronic music has grown into more than just a genre — it’s come to characterize a community. Mills, Knight and a handful of other artists unknowingly tied themselves to this subculture, their music bubbling up a mirage of nostalgic freedom.
It’s difficult to categorize Odesza’s music, especially so with the release of its newest record, The Last Goodbye. Always ambiguous, the duo’s music is known to bend genres, and the new record is no different.
With that being said, The Last Goodbye is a lot gloomier than previous albums, a consistent theme in electronic music since the onset of the pandemic. Earlier releases, such as Flume’s Palaces and Rüfüs Du Sol’s Surrender, are similar in that they turn to deeper, entrancing instrumentals that are much more difficult to particularly let loose to.
Inspired by Bettye LaVette’s “Let Me Down Easy” — which the duo sampled for the title song — the 13-track album illuminates clashing feelings of freedom and confinement brought upon by the pandemic, making for a rollercoaster of emotion. Yet, the album lacks a clear theme and consistent sound as it rocks back and forth between Odesza’s past and present, making for a vague return.
“Love Letter” featuring The Knocks spotlights a distorted voice repeating, “You can’t break my heart/ ‘cause I was never in love” over a glittery, spiraling beat. Dropping into a glitchy reverb with cuts of percussion and a slew of other instruments, the track intertwines a stable beat with a flurry of sounds. Like many other tracks on the album, “Love Letter” evokes a vague, uncertain feeling — made ambiguous by the song’s constant back and forth.
Similar to Odesza’s classics are the powerhouse “Forgive Me,” featuring Izzy Bizu and hallucinatory “North Garden.” “Forgive Me” is an upbeat, catchy track about a faltering relationship, with Bizu repeatedly pleading, “Give me a chance.” Meanwhile, “North Garden” mimics the enthralling instrumentals that characterized previous records.
While a handful of tracks recall similar themes to In Return and A Moment Apart, others stand on their own. “This Version Of You,” featuring Julianna Barwick, centers on a dystopian voice compelling its audience, while “Better Now” featuring MARO is meant to be sung along to in the car with the windows down. Potentially, The Last Goodbye’s delivery is meant to locate presentness by channeling both past and future sounds. However, this message is lost in the disjointedness between tracks.
By far, the instrumental tracks are the best part of the record. Songs like “Healing Grid” and “Behind The Sun” represent Odesza’s strength in creating melodic magic meant for a larger stage. Known to bring out full orchestras and drumlines for performances, the duo is no stranger to a live spectacle.
“All My Life” might make its listeners cry for its sincere exploration of coming of age. At the same time, its smooth rhythm is made for dancing. By generating these conflicting feelings, Mills and Knight direct electronic music into an avenue of storytelling that can even be played at the clubs.
The album may be called The Last Goodbye, but Odesza fans will be here to stay. Mixing dystopian sounds with glittery beats, the record might be a bit thematically messy, but still it speaks to Mills and Knight’s ability to create tantalizing and unparalleled music.