by Jack Faulds
In the vast and ever-expanding sea of contemporary rock music, the presence of the electric guitar is rarely something to call home about. However, every once in a while, there comes along an act whose use of this instrument defies all expectations, broadening our sonic horizons and paving the way for the next generation of nonconformist axe-wielders.
Enter stage left Ohmme, the explosive lovechild of Chicago-based multi-instrumentalists Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham. The duo formed in 2014, a fusion of two classically trained virtuosas looking for something more experimental. Their shared interest in improvisational music made them an immediate powerhouse, and in late 2015 they released their first (self-titled) EP.
Each of the six tracks on this debut offer something wildly different, however they remain connected through the girls’ adventurous yet solid guitar-playing skills. The EP’s opener “Woman” introduces us to the pair’s natural chemistry and seamless versatility. A gentle vibrato guitar accompanies a syncopated vocal duet, the calm before the storm of the hook which adopts a more aggressive tone. “Furniture” uses a similar technique of tension and release – spooky keyboards and airy voices build to a peppy chorus which ends in a tempest of distorted guitars and chaotic drums. This metamorphic songwriting style quickly became a staple of the band, carrying through to and developing in their later work.
In 2018, their first album “Parts” was released under Joyful Noise Recordings, home to a plethora of incredible acts such as Swamp Dogg and Tropical Fuck Storm. Recorded and self-produced from the comfort of Cunningham’s home studio, this album saw the dynamic duo beginning to fine-tune their sound, especially in terms of their guitar utilisation. This is particularly obvious in the track “Water”, where Cunningham transforms a St. Vincent-esque fuzz guitar riff into a series of percussive screeches reminiscent of Alex Weir’s contributions to Talking Heads. The rhythmic exploration on this track, the looming string arrangement on “Sentient Beings” and the sporadic bursts of noise on “Peach” make for an inspired collection of musical U-turns.
A highlight in the band’s career for me personally is their 2020 release “Fantasize Your Ghost”, the most colourful project they have under their belt so far. Tracks like “Ghost” and “Sturgeon Moon” refamiliarise us with their tendency to abandon the guitar player’s handbook, with modulated, synth-like squeals embellishing steady grooves and robotic soundscapes. Whether it be the frustrated chirps of “The Limit”, the tender musings of “Some Kind of Calm” or the harmonious wails of “Selling Candy”, this album has some of the most interesting vocals on the market. Moreover, the lyrical content is deeply introspective, with lines like ‘If I hadn’t walked eight miles to make something else happen, the day would’ve slipped out of my grasp just like my reflection’ delivering that sweet existential goodness. In short, Ohmme are a force to be reckoned with. Double-acts as hypnotising as this are hard to come by – so give them a spin already!
**This story was originally published as part of our digital Freshers 2021 edition. Read the full edition here.**