Thursday, December 22, 2011
Omar Domkus - Shades Of a Shadow (2010)
I'm a rock and roll kinda guy. Don't get me wrong, I love music in all its various forms, and appreciate nearly every time of musical expression. But one look at my cassette, vinyl, and CD collection will tell you that my musical interests lie primarily in the form of rock, hard rock, punk and all forms of heavy metal. That said, I do consider myself to have fairly broad taste in music, and I enjoy diversions from "rock music" often. Most frequently this is in the form of either electronic music or what is classified (often erroneously) as "new age", i.e. Mannheim Steamroller or Checkfield. Sometimes, however, other diversions strike me just as much and I end up enjoying them immensely. Such is the case with Omar Domkus' "Shades of a Shadow" album.
For those of my readers also of the rock persuasion, the name Omar Domkus might sound familiar, and it should. He was the bassist for the once prominent goth-punk powerhouse Scaterd Few, alongside brother Ramald Domkus, now christened simply Allan Aguirre. Scaterd Few's debut "Sin Disease" had a HUGE impact upon its release, at least in circles of such familiarity. I myself own an original CD copy of said album and enjoy it a lot. Subsequent albums were quality, if not missing that visceral feeling and energy that the debut possessed. If you're expecting anything near the punk rock assault of Scaterd Few, you'll be sorely disappointed. Open your mind, however, and you're in for a real treat.
"Shades of a Shadow" is by all accounts a bass guitar album. Not in the sense that it's nothing but bass guitar, but as a bassist (fretless, at that), Omar propels and dominates the album as necessary. There is plenty of other varied instrumentation on here, from "world music" styled drum work to ambient keyboards, jazz horns, layered guitar, acoustic guitar, and so on. But by and large, Omar's bass work is what defines this CD at the "base" level (sorry, pun intended). And that's a good thing from where I sit, because bass guitar is often the forgotten element on rock and metal records, the back-seat driver who rarely gets a word in edge-wise, content usually to plunk along with the drums to help propel the music. But here, Omar gets to showcase his talent for melody, his playing ability, his songwriting skill, and his overall command of the instrument.
The thing that strikes me (in a good way) immediately about this CD is its diversity. The opening track is an unassuming ambient piece, dominated by dreamy keyboard sounds, while "Tianenman Square" is a full-on female-vocal alternative music piece with a lush harmony and guitar sound. "Little Man" is an almost folk-like acoustic guitar number that sounds like a New York City street jam, and "Baroque" is an interesting diversion into muted horn work and interesting minor key bass/drum interplay while "Rejoice in the Dance" is a cool lounge jazz number. Most of the rest of the material follows a bit more common thread, being bass driven songs lightly flavored in a "world music" kind of vibe, but probably not fitting 100% into that mold or description. These tracks are interspersed with vocal work (by Omar), while some remain totally instrumental. This variety of material and the way the album flows from track to track is part of the success of the release - Omar has enough variety here to keep things fresh, and the tracks that deviate from the common formula are sprinkled into the track order perfectly to break up the monotony (so to speak) and add a little spice to the proceedings. He couldn't have chosen the track order any more perfectly if he tried.
The instrumental work here is great - Omar's bass is, of course, in top form, with a lot of chording and interesting things going on, as well as plenty of sliding up and down the neck to accentuate that aspect of playing fretless bass. Drum work is tasteful and well done, with the appropriate amount of drive when needed, as well as being sparse when the song calls for it. Guitar work in various forms all sounds good, especially on the aforementioned "Tianenman Square". Horns come off nicely with that classic muted sound, and in spots are either piercing or calming, effectively evoking the right flavor. Keyboard work is also good, though less present after the first few tracks, though it is generally also tasteful and well done. Omar as a vocalist is better than I expected - he sings well, on-key, and has the right kind of voice for this type of project. It's a very "real" sounding voice, with no unnecessary inflection or bravado. It's just a man singing from the heart, and that's refreshing.
This kind of album is hard for me to "rate" accurately, because this is not the kind of music I listen to frequently. I must say, however, that after Omar sent me this CD I took it on a work trip with me. I was out of town for a whole week on business, and about half-way through the 8 1/2 hour drive to my destination I popped this CD in and started listening to it. I only took the CD out of the player once during the week to play a couple other CDs during a long drive on a busy evening during a major snowfall. Otherwise, I listened to this CD basically all week long in the car. In total, I probably spun it well over 20 times during that span, and I wasn't tired of it. I occasionally get the melody for "Tianenman Square", "Little Man", "Aishes Chayil" or "Looking Darkly Through a Mirror" stuck in my head, and I still pull this CD out nearly a year later and play it semi-frequently when I am in a mellow mood. To me, that speaks to the quality of the overall package.
I must conclude this review with an apology to Mr. Domkus for my tardiness in writing this review. I had hoped to write the review during that week of being away, which was my initial reason for spinning it so many times. However, with the frequent listens and my inexperience with this style of music I held off until I could put my thoughts into words more eloquently. While I'm not sure I have done that, I feel confident that I have at least said good things about the release. There are some tracks here that are probably "filler" in the classic sense, because there are a few slightly redundant melodic lines throughout, but overall this is a strong release. Take my rating below with a grain of salt and understand that it's more a personal barometer for me than a true rating of its quality. I enjoy this CD and I think anyone who enjoys mellow stylings and appreciates the bass guitar would enjoy listening to this disc. Recommended.