We were able to get access to Cullen Omori's new album The Diet (Out August 17, 2018) so we are going to take some time to preview the man behind the music, give this record a listen and a thorough review, and take a look at two of the videos for the singles that are out. With that said, let's jump right in!
Cullen Omori Biography
Cullen Omori is a native of Chicago, Illinois and first rose to prominence when he formed the indie group The Smith Westerns in 2007, which he was with until 2014 before venturing out on his solo career. He started his solo career with Sub Pop with his release of New Misery which was positively received by the alt community.
The ensuing time between Omori's first solo album and second has been a difficult road. Omori had car accidents, strained relationships, and busted vans to deal with in the time between the two records. Not to mention a relocation from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Omori stated that "I named the album The Diet because to go on a diet, you cut back on certain things and regulate your intake of others. The idea that you can do that means you must have a surplus of whatever you're trying to limit. I was so emotionally and spiritually drained, and my only surplus was a bunch of negative feelings and a lot of self-loathing". Omori channeled the energy from the chaos he was experiencing in his personal life to craft the songs that would appear on the album.
Omori changed up how he approached his recording style for this record. Whereas in the past he would lock himself in a room with a producer and work away until he had a finished product, The Diet was more collaborative in nature. Omori noted "...this time around I wanted the sessions to be a revolving door of musicians: different people, different aesthetics, I wanted to open up, even though all these terrible things have happened to me. I pushed against my inner nature by actively pursuing collaborators". Omori felt this ultimately helped The Diet be a more accessible record for listeners.
The Diet Album Review
The Diet is a marvel of an album that juxtaposes melody and themes in a manner in which we have rarely seen in music. Omori is able to deliver such heart wrenching material in a manner that doesn't simply just make the listener mope, but rather invites them in through melodic music and vocal harmonies. We thoroughly enjoyed his unconventional song structures. Today we see all too often *Verse 1/Chorus/Verse 2/Same Chorus/Super Chorus/annnnnd Curtain*. Omori takes that notion and beats it to hell with his hooks, seemingly coming out of nowhere, but it still flows in a way that is organic and makes sense.
1. "Four Years" - Good indie melody with lead playing mostly clean over acoustic chords that shift between major and minor chords. Solid bridge and vocals. Vocals are reminiscent of classic rock like Beach Boys and the Beatles with the harmonies, especially on the chorus. Thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of the guitar solo and the ending section where Cullen brought it up another level! Lyrically and thematically the song is pretty dark when positioned against the bright melodies of the tune. The song explores themes of self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, depression (and the ensuing indifference it causes), and self-loathing. Omori has such a talent for juxtaposing bright melody with dark themes, that rivals that of Stephan Jenkins (of Third Eye Blind). This might even go unbeknownst to the listener if they're not looking out for such things. .
2. "Borderline Friend" - This track has a bit more of a slowed down melody to it, reminiscent of classic alt favorites Pinback. Love the structure of the song and the sudden drop into the hook, it takes the listener by surprise in a good way. Strong vocals on display here as well, again this track is more in the traditional alt genre and doesn't display the classic stylings that "Four Years" did. It's very much in theme with what Omori is building toward. The Beatles-type harmonies come back out of nowhere at the end. What a welcome addition! Lyrically, this is a love song, but not the conventional type; it reminds us of a relationship where one partner feels trapped, or the luster is gone (or was never there in the first place).
3. "All By Yourself" - This song features acoustic guitar with effects-driven vocals. The track is a solid one and slows things down a bit. However, it still doesn't come off as a sad song. It's a love song as well, but it's very much about wanting to help someone in isolation, while simultaneously struggling with mental health challenges yourself.
4. "Happiness Reigns" - The track begins with tight guitar and drum work. It features great vocals from Omori; his voice just hovers perfectly above the melody of this tune. We loved the inclusion of the guitar solo at the end. Thematically, there's a lot going on from the potential of abusive relationships with children involved to "uranium flowers", a metaphor we felt had to be about toxic gestures of love.
5. "Master Eyes" - This track is set to a great melody, but what shines the most here musically are the vocal harmonies featured throughout almost the entire track. This would be such an interesting track to see performed live. Lyrically, Omori initially posits the narrator as Oppenheimer with regard to sex, (i.e. nuclear capabilities). However, by the end of the track, it seems the tables have turned on the narrator who has retreated and no longer wants to be a part of the act with his former partner.
6. "Quiet Girl" - We are picking up a classic 60's rock/indie vibe on this track, with John Lennon vocal stylings here as well. The guitar work at the end was so slick it almost sounded like it was slide guitar. Major props there!
7. "Black Rainbow" - Right off the bat, we can say we are digging the name of the song as it reminds us of Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark" (we know we're nerds). The song starts off slow, with effects laden vocals from Omori. Love the musical bridge. Drums join on the second verse along with more guitar work. Omori does so well with blending his vocals with the added guitar that is doing a lot behind his vocals. Many musicians might not be able to control this without it feeling cluttered, but Omori's in the driver seat the entire time. Love the slight crunch to the guitar as well.
8. "Natural Woman" - Immediately we get an indie feeling that is very different than the 60's rock sound we had earlier and that quickly changes to acoustic guitar and then piano (didn't see that coming!). There are minimal effects on Omori's vocals. This song is about as close as we get to a conventional love song from Omori, with lyrics such as "And every second of every day I’m in love, And every second of every day you’re my girl, And it’s so natural". There is again great guitar work in the song. This is another enjoyable track in an album full of them.
9. "Millenial Geishas" - Another fantastic indie track musically, with smooth vocals provided by Omori. We think there is something to the notion of technology in this song as it relates to relationships and the ability to immediately access almost anyone anywhere at anytime. Particularly when he delivers the line "Love, my followers are mine, am I wrong I’m gonna up my ante, if you don’t follow or at me".
10. "Last Line" - This track almost has a 90's alt/indie feel to it. The guitars are fuzzy and crunchy; we love it. Lyrically and thematically, the song is about lovers trying to give it a second go, however it doesn't work out when one person says they've changed but the other person says they haven't. But Omori gets it right when he says "It can’t be romance unless she feels the same".
11. "Queen" - This song again leans heavily indie, though the synth work early in the track reminded us of early alt bands like The Cure. Omori's vocals pair well with the heavy synth presence in the track and the backing harmonies; it feels extremely warm. This song has all the sounds of a love song with a big exception. The lyrics show that the relationship is toxic, comparing the narrator's partner to a black hole. Again this is a master at work here, twisting themes and melodies to confuse the listener's brain and we can't get enough.
12. "A Real You" - This song is such a change of pace from everything else on the album and falls firmly in the alt genre. With a fun melody, drum beat, and even a horn section at the end, it feels like a very grandiose way to send off the album.
Closing Thoughts - This album was so tight from beginning to end. Though there were variations in genre in sound a little bit, you could tell these songs were part of a collective and they were meant to be together. This is something that has been lost in many ways with the increasing rush to get singles out these days. Cullen Omori had stories to tell on this album, many of them dark and tragic. He is able to touch on the dark and macabre in life like Morrissey, but after a listening session you don't need a box of tissues. Bottom line, he poured his heart out from 2 years of personal struggle and turned it into something beautiful. We don't know any better way to approach overcoming challenges in life than that, so we have got to give him all the props in the world.
Rating: 5 out of 5
"Happiness Reigns" Music Video:
The "Happiness Reigns" video is a fun one featuring karaoke in a dive bar. While the song plays there's a bit of karaoke inception as a young woman lip syncs Omori's "Happiness Reign", while Omori himself is featured on a projector video in the background doing the same. The video also features scenes of the woman stranded with her car broken down on a desert highway.
"Four Years" Music Video:
The "Four Years" music video cranks up what's so great about the album. This video furthers the juxtaposition we discussed in the "Four Years" song review by showing images of sunny beaches and beautiful oceans along with the song. Omori furthers this by playing off of the karaoke theme from the previous video. He's literally putting the lyrics in the viewer's face, with a wink to the audience.
For more information on Cullen Omori, visit: https://www.subpop.com/artists/cullen_omori or
via social media on Instagram @cullenomori, Facebook @CullenOmoriMusic, or Twitter @CullenOmorii.
Special thanks to Sub Pop Records, FMI about Sub Pop visit: www.subpop.com.