The first time I heard Om was via Sup Pop’s 20th anniversary 2008/2009 Singles Club collection, with Gebel Barkal. It remains the most-played of the dozen singles released in that set, although curiously (a split single with Six Organs Of Admittance aside) I’d never looked at getting hold of any of their albums. I suppose this was because, much as I liked the spacey and meditative music they produced, I wasn’t sure if my easily distracted nature could cope with a whole album’s worth. It turns out that I can, and happily so.
Comprising of five tracks, Advaitic Songs is a complex beast and in no rush to reveal its depths. Opening with Addis, a calm Sanskrit devotional backed with strings and the lightest of percussive touches, the stage is set for something different, slow-burning, and – above all – old. Om utterly immerse themselves in their subject matter, taking in the geography and history of their cultural influences and spinning a cohesive musical whole from them, so that each element of this album flows easily from one song to the next.
And this flow is no mean feat. Following from Addis‘ serenity, State Of Non-Return begins gently enough before the bass distorts and combines with drums to create a storm to support Al Cisneros’ slightly-phased monotone vocals and highly evocative lyrics (although I have to admit that this is a general evoking, given that the revelations tend to take in several faiths and sit them all together – which is a lovely thought in itself). This track is closest to what I previously believed Om generally sounded like, lots of bass and drums (particularly the latter, Emil Amos really letting loose in places) managing to be both calm and frenetic in equal measure, with the added string section holding the middle ground wonderfully to add depth and colour – as indeed they do right the way through the record.
It may all come across as a bit stoner, but the layers added to Advaitic Songs ensure that there’s always something going on, especially during the final three songs (all of which exceed the 10-minute mark). Gethsemane‘s strength comes from the extended instrumental break, the now-familiar Middle-Eastern scales underpinned by a groove that’s impossible to avoid nodding one’s head along to, Sinai‘s opening single-note drone is only added to at the two-minute mark with an unknown chant before the song begins in earnest a full minute later with a hypnotic, almost electronic-sounding rhythm that brings forth fond memories of the long, stellar passages found in Ozric Tentacles gigs in the 1990s before fading back out to that same warm drone for the final minute and a half.
The album’s true highlight is saved for last though. Haqq al-Yaqin (the third degree of certainty, according to the Internet) is an absolute treasure of a piece of music. As with the previous track, it establishes its serene mood and pace with its opening tabla beat and stately cello riff paving the way for a whispered vocal and wordless chant that reminds me in turn of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and Pink Floyd’s Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (which probably says more about my own somewhat insular musical experiences than what’s actually going on), continuing sedately through a flute-led passage before transforming into a rather beautiful guitar section that leads us to the end of the song and the end of the album.
By the very nature of its title (and the gathering of texts), Advaitic Songs sets out to unite its own universe. To these ears at least, this succeeds beautifully. It’s immersive to the point of dreamlike, the structures of even the longest pieces flowing naturally from start to finish and it’s surprising just how fast it all seems to pass by before the end. It’s maybe because my preconceptions were proved to be so wrong, that this is something that I wouldn’t normally sit and listen to or simply that I’ve just had a bloody awful couple of weeks and this has calmed the spirit rather nicely, but I found myself enjoying this a lot more than I honestly thought I would. Advaitic Songs is for certain one of the finer records I’ve heard this year so far.