Odesza’s A Moment Apart opens in the midst of a spoken-word narrative, in which a woman describes a Russian cosmonaut who hears a knocking sound while in orbit. He comes to the realization that he is all alone with the sound, just him and the mysterious, irritating noise. Instead of giving in to frustration, he receives an invitation. Peace comes, the narrator hints, when he decides to “fall in love with that sound.”
Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, the duo behind Odesza, knew what they were doing beginning their Grammy-nominated album this way, because that is exactly how I feel while listening to it. Not that the music is bothersome; far from it. Yet it does creep into one’s consciousness, so that even when you’re not listening to it, you’re still hearing the haunting beats and considering the profound lyrics.
I was first transfixed by the band when I watched them perform “Higher Ground,” featuring Naomi Wild, on KEXP. “I wish church was like this,” I said to my husband, who had introduced me to Odesza, his favorite “study music.” He shot me a puzzled look. “It’s transcendent,” I argued. “Something about this sound makes me want to listen to it more.”
I usually pay more attention to lyrics than beat, but with Odesza that has been flipped. The sound is what haunts me long after I’ve turned off the record. In the midst of intense conversation, we "read between the lines." We attend to what isn't said as much as what is. A Moment Apart pulses with perpetual synth bass lines, teary strings, and frenetic drums. It’s a reminder that conveying human emotion takes so much more than just the written or spoken word.
Even when you’re not listening to it, you’re still hearing the haunting beats.
At the same time, the lyrics also give listeners plenty to ponder. On “Divide,” Kelsey Bulkin sings, “Everybody prays to god by different names / Tell me your version / You don’t have to play it down or fake it / Don’t give me that bull****.” Bulkin’s lilting voice, contrasted with her pointed words, suggest an expansive view of the divine. The ambitious breadth of the album’s tracks express that, too.
Likewise, “Line of Sight,” featuring WYNNE and Mansionair, captures the human experience with these words:
“And I don't learn, no I don't learn
It'll all be fine this time
And I don't learn, no I don't learn
Help me out, don’t let me down
I could learn from you
I could learn from you.”
Change is resisted; the illusion that everything is fine is believed. Yet the existence of this unspecified “you” suggests something deeper. It’s possible that this person being sung to is simply a romantic partner. But could it be God?
Whether A Moment Apart means to or not, the album works for me as a spiritual journey of sound. Thanks to the persistent beats and the prayer-like lyrics, I can’t help but think of Paul’s petition in his first letter to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” In a literal sense, this is impossible. But prayer spans more than what we cognitively comprehend and contains more than the words we select and utter. It is also a posture, an orientation, a way we move in the world. Some Christians use physical symbols to accompany their prayer practice: a stone to thumb in one’s pocket, a rosary to work over. Even the simple practice of focusing on one’s breath—in, out, in, out—is a tool of prayer.
And, of course, there is the long tradition of sung prayers, of sacred music. But is it possible for music to connect us to God, whether it means to or not? I grew up with the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out,” a warning that what we put into our bodies has ramifications for what dwells within us and what comes out of us. That may be a bit fearful or wrongheaded, but the essence of it is true: what we consume becomes a part of us, and has a way of perpetuating through us.
A Moment Apart has 16 songs, adding up to a mere 59 minutes. Yet it persists like a continual, prayerful accompaniment. Perhaps it is a conduit to the Spirit, without being too obvious about it. That’s kind of how the Spirit jams, anyway.