Once again, as I ponder my history with Omni, I ask myself: how many writers in my field consider the metric of dance?
When or how exactly our paths metaphorically crossed, I can’t pinpoint now. All I know is, I held them with suspicion — indeed, perhaps the same arms-length regard that the trio themselves held for ordinary rock fodder. On debut Deluxe, their elastic lo-fi jangle reminded me of all the Postcard bands I loved; yet, on the roof of the Georgia Theatre, they seemed too stiff to me, like exaggerated Gang of Four mannequins. No organic chemistry, no sparks between band and fans, no fire at all. And no dancing that night, surely.
Omni never quite dismounted from my cranium, though. Earworms dug deep; I tried to conceive the earring that rattled down the drain. Yet, gigs would come up where I’d think, oh, maybe this time I’ll get it, and then I’d pass on ’em. The name would crop up in conversation, and I’d dismiss it. I had no personal metric to measure them by — my only impression of them was from that night in Athens, of three deceptively short dudes who seemed mildly standoffish outside of their home turf. Not once did I consider I could jive with them.
A year passes in this limbo until Omni sneak up on me at the EARL. I’ve prepped myself for cynicism — Jock Gang have come and gone, and whatever euphoria they once could convey has diminished in this more compact formation. I tell everyone who listens that I’m not expecting much. But then they mount the stage — and what is this? How do my feet glide to the front? What is this electricity that now animates me? Why is Philip Frobos three times more charming than before?
I don’t take back any of that cynicism, mind. But surely, whatever grain of genius was sown in Deluxe grows now in wildfire abundance, and I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ve just come late for the harvest. Everything about Multi-task is bigger — the fleshed-out fidelity, the athletic leaps of beefier guitars, the more insistent grooves (I still can’t get over that ridiculous hi-hat shuffle on “Equestrian”). But that’s all to underline that the mission statement hasn’t changed too much, even with new drummer Doug Bleichner in tow. One even has to wonder if the term “post-punk” ever applied — was this muscular gallop always buried within? Were they always more Bachman-Turner Overdrive than Orange Juice? (Although, let’s face it: that 180 jerk at the end of “Calling Direct” is a perfect 10 post-punk maneuver.)
Anyway. What hung me up the first time wasn’t the swagger, but the wit — “too cool to care,” I said. Yet, I failed to acknowledge what’s become so glaringly obvious on Multi-task; namely, that Frobos obsessively analyzes the interstices between men and women, because he’s invested too much in them. Nowhere is that clearer than “Southbound Station,” the frenetic opener about a fleeting love affair made all the more fleeting (and desperate) by erratic public transit. “You look good in the daylight / you look good, do you need a ride?” — this is a literal pick-up line, ladies and gents, and Frobos knows exactly how horny that sounds. It’s a refreshing admission; where other aloof chums skirt around libido, or abstract love into grand poetic statements, Omni tackle the absurdity of courtship head-on, digging into themselves as much as others in the process. “Does that catch your eye? Does that catch your eye?” Frobos asks on “Date Night,” catching himself in the act of trying too hard to impress other women.
Mind, there’s a very fine line between healthy cynicism and modest misanthropy, as indicated on “Choke”: “If you buy her those boots / she’ll step on your neck.” Well now, who’s to blame here? Consider another line: “it’s obscene to think that she’d ever stay.” Again, who’s to blame here? On the one hand, you can read that as a man trying to undo patriarchal entitlement, but you could also read that as plain ol’ misogynistic mistrust. What’s the verdict? Perhaps, that regardless of however much we try to level the gaps between genders, that shaky anxiety that tangles us as we attempt to intertwine shall always remain. At any rate — and this is the crucial part, that would make even the latter option palatable — Frobos tends to blame himself every time. “Sometimes I can’t be friendly… I just don’t got it in me,” he insists on the vibrant “After Dinner”; “you better love her, ’cause you know she’s gonna make a mess,” he quips on “Date Night.”
I haven’t even started on the parallel economic commentary running under this, of the typical millennial delving way outside their means for the sake of social status (see “Tuxedo Blues,” especially). Honestly, though, I think I’ve made my point: i.e, that I am flawed, and Omni are flawed, and it was my fault to fault Omni for being faulty. Or, something more pithy for the pull quote: while the band flexed both wit and melody with the ease of an Olympic gymnast on Deluxe, Multi-task proves to fans and cynics alike that they’re in this sport for the long haul. (Yes, that’s more official, innit.) At the very least, they’ve been fun to fence with, metaphorically speaking. Just as I haven’t dropped my critical foil, neither have they, and that I can respect. And dance to.
Omni will celebrate the release of Multi-task with a DJ set in the Brig at Argosy. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is FREE.