Album Review: Omni – Souvenir

[Sub Pop; 2024]

Perhaps the greatest strength of Atlanta-based trio Omni has always been their efficiency. Their sound has been defined by their use of space, their confidence grounded in letting rhythms and hooks speak for themselves. This was apparent on their earlier albums Deluxe and Multi-task but taken a step further on the shiny but more minimalist Networker, their 2019 debut LP for Sub Pop. Yet there was always the sense that the band had more up their sleeves. Songs like Networker’s “Skeleton Key”, for example, displayed their intuition for crafting hook-driven songs as a nearly effortless feat, almost to a fault. You couldn’t blame listeners for wanting more.

That their latest album Souvenir opens with a camera shutter is symbolic for two reasons. Sure, it’s an obvious reference to the album’s title, a nod to how cameras capture memorable moments (or souvenirs, if you will). But here, on “Exacto”, the shutter is followed by a mumbling of the words “wasn’t ready”, before jumping right into the song’s razor-sharp grooves. Like cresting the peak of a roller coaster, anxieties be damned, this ready or not energy lays the groundwork that guitarist Frankie Broyles, singer/bassist Philip Frobos, and drummer Chris Yonker have to contend with.

And contend do they do: it’s this restlessness that underpins the success of Souvenir. Slippery piano flourishes decorate “INTL Water”; “Common Mistakes” channels Devo-esque hooks with a staccato sharpness that adds urgency to their established sound. Across its half-hour runtime, the band makes clear that Souvenir is a sounding board to get many ideas off their chests. What’s the reason behind this adrenaline rush? There are likely several. Souvenir is the first album with Yonker as the band’s full-time drummer, whose frantic playing makes listeners feel like they’re listening to older Omni songs at twice the speed. Souvenir also marks the band’s first turn with Atlanta-based engineer Kristofer Sampson, who’s worked with bands like The B-52’s. His work highlights each member’s strengths without letting anyone overpower any particular moment.

Souvenir also undoubtedly highlights a newfound self-assurance in the band’s songwriting. The jitteriness of “Plastic Pyramid” falls into a bluesy, Television-esque sway before picking right back up. The piano pounding and zippy shredding that sends out “INTL Water” makes for a thrilling moment of controlled chaos that only succeeds thanks to the two-minute build-up that precedes it. But there’s something else at work here, an added angstiness that’s difficult to quantify. The heavy riffs of “Double Negative” feel vaguely portentous in the way you’re not sure how to take a friend’s self-deprecating joke. The Strokes-inspired “PG” finds Frobos recalling being mugged alongside shoulder-shrug guitar licks.

Album highlight “Plastic Pyramid” finds Frobos and Automatic’s Izzy Glaudini turning to the equally apt and absurdist metaphor of a balloon to describe the futility of our efforts. When Frobos declares “Dying for your attention all night” on “Exacto”, he’s seemingly stating an obvious plea for attention from his former lover. But he also recalls their first encounter in precise detail, compared to his presumed rival who “always forgets to introduce his wife”. These lyrics speak to the futility of our efforts. Omni have always been driven by their anxieties and insecurities, but their previous albums also evoked an air of indifference toward their fates. Souvenir erases all doubt: Frobos and company use this album to vent and analyze and analyze over and over until there’s nothing left to give. 

Album closer “Compliment” taps on a particular musician’s dread: the music leak. “The finale was leaked / And now I hear the hook in someone else’s song,” Frobos laments. Yet seconds later, he’s admitting “I’m guilty of it too / Looking at someone else’s life / Thinking, hey man, that looks nice.” Even here, in the face of creative disaster, he’s not indifferent but understanding. It’s a fitting end to the band’s deepest, and strongest, album to-date. When you stop to catch your breath, even the worst outcomes don’t seem so bad.