There's an easy way to know that Omni, a post-punk duo out of Atlanta, is worth listening to. It's not that their guitarist, Frankie Broyles, used to play in Deerhunter; it's not that they just got signed to Sub Pop, the coveted indie label that Beach House, Father John Misty, Sleater-Kinney, and Wolf Parade call home; it's not the glowing reviews they've gotten from dozens of music magazines, or the number of shows they've sold out across the US and overseas, or the millions of streams their songs have racked up on Spotify.
It's simple: Watch them play one, single song. That's all it takes to know that Omni isn't just another band—they're the most exciting thing to happen to rock music in years.
Their new album, Networker, which came out on Friday, cements that status. For the third time now, they've made a record that grabs you by the collar and yanks you from start to finish, a 30-minute whirlwind of angular guitar runs, intricate bass lines, driving drum parts, and impressionistic songwriting potent enough to give you goosebumps. Omni makes music more interesting, more arresting, and more flat-out fun to listen to than any other rock band around right now—but that's not something they set out to do. It happened, essentially, by accident.Omni never had grand ambitions to get signed to a major label, or tour the globe, or hear their songs on the radio. When they first started making music, they weren't even trying to be a band. They were just two dudes living in a run-down old house in Atlanta, helplessly watching their other projects fall apart. It was 2011; Broyles's band, Balkans, hadn't written a new song in a year. They'd spent a few months doing nothing but playing shows and arguing, until even that petered out. Philip Frobos, Broyles's housemate, was in a band called Carnivores, but they were in a similar spot. They had put out a record and gone on a short tour, and then they all stopped talking to each other.
One day, Frobos sent Broyles a bass line he was working on and asked him what he thought. Broyles recorded a guitar part over it and sent it back. Frobos sang a few lines into a microphone, and—voila—they had made a song. They kept on recording demos like that just for kicks, stripped-down songs they’d write in a single night: bass, guitar, lyrics, melody, everything. Broyles would add in drums the next day. It was a casual, fun recording project between two friends, and that was all they wanted it to be. But after they wrote a song called "Eyes on the Floor," whatever they were doing began to feel like it had legs.
"We both acknowledged, like: This is way cooler than anything we’ve done before," Frobos said. "It just felt right, and we kept going on that note. Kind of followed the white rabbit."
"We were both stuck in our other bands, and this was like—this was exciting," Broyles said. "It felt more satisfying than playing music had been during that time."
With each new demo they made, the music kept getting better. Broyles floated the idea of doing a show, and they started gigging at house parties and small venues around Atlanta, convincing Nathaniel Higgins, a buddy of theirs, to play the drum parts Broyles had written. But they still weren't pursuing the project seriously.
"At some point," Frobos said, "Nathaniel was like, 'This is good. Why don’t you just let me record you, and if it sucks, then who cares?'"
After recording a few songs in Atlanta, the trio drove two hours south to Vienna, Georgia, holed themselves up in a remote cabin Broyles's great-grandparents had built in the 1940s, and finished Omni's first album. They called it Deluxe—an almost ironic name for a record whose songs had each been thrown together in one night, without a thought of taking them anywhere beyond Frobos's laptop. He and Broyles barely changed their demos before recording them, a fact that, when you listen to Deluxe, is mind-blowing. Sure, it's raw—but the arrangements are as elaborate as a mathematical proof. The guitar and bass parts overlap in delightfully weird, unexpected ways; songs brake and change directions out of nowhere; time signatures shift, revert back, and shift again. The record has a DIY, ramshackle energy to it, but there's not a single note that seems out of place. These songs sound deliberate, intentional, fully realized. Deluxe feels like the end product of years spent tinkering to get each song just right. In reality, the number of hours it took to write probably wouldn't fill a week.
Frobos and Broyles didn't have plans to do anything with the record. For them, Omni was still about making music solely for the sake of making it.
"Creating a song that I'm happy with, or satisfied by, is a feeling I don't really get from anything else," Broyles said. "I can be pretty anxious, and obsessive, and worry a lot about all kinds of things, but music has always been something that's been an escape from anything that might be bothering me."
"We were playing a few shows in Atlanta, but our whole band was like, 'We're not doing anything that we don't want to do,'" Frobos added. "'This is not going to be an ambitious band. We're just going to do stuff that sounds good.'"
They went on tour and, during a stop in Chicago, wound up meeting Bill Roe, the cofounder of a record label called Trouble in Mind. He approached them about putting out Deluxe. Suddenly, a band that had never planned on being a band had an album they had never planned on recording out on a label they had never planned on signing to.
Deluxe took off. The Guardian gave it four out of five stars; Paste called it "instantly memorable"; the Observer wrote that listening to it felt "like finding a lost classic, or a previously unreleased work of genius." Within weeks, "Afterlife," the first song on the record, broke 100,000 streams on Spotify. Omni signed with a booking agency and set up a handful of tours around the US. Soon after, they managed to lock one down in Europe.
They drove around the continent in a beat-up 1995 Volkswagen van with no heat. It was the middle of January—their feet were constantly numb, and they had to wear all the clothes they had on their backs—but they didn't care. They were playing cities and towns they couldn't have imagined performing in a few months earlier.
"That European tour was super encouraging," Frobos said. "We were having great crowds in places we'd never been."
After it ended, they went on another US tour almost immediately—then another, and another, and another. They were getting even more popular in Europe, and their booking agent set up another batch of dates overseas. Between tours, they had been recording their second album, Multi-Task, and they released it while they were abroad.
Listening to Multi-Task feels like reading a page-turner in one sitting: You're propelled from song to song, pulled through the record by guitar runs that sound difficult enough to break someone's hand, bass lines that run counter to them but somehow still complement them perfectly, and image-rich songwriting delivered with a punk sensibility—almost like Frobos is improvising poetry. The whole thing kind of makes you want to break something, and kind of makes you want to fall in love. As was the case with Deluxe, most of these songs were written in a single night.
Multi-Task received even more effusive praise than Deluxe. Frobos and Broyles quit their day jobs, since Omni—constantly on tour—was now spending more time in their van than they were in Atlanta. They brought on Chris Yonker, of Hello Ocho, as a touring drummer. A rep from Sub Pop caught one of their shows in Seattle and approached them about putting out a single. They wound up signing Omni to the label.
Frobos and Broyles took a break from touring and came back to Atlanta to work on another record. They wrote songs the way they always had—getting together in a room, tossing around ideas, building structures off of whatever bass lines or guitar parts felt interesting to them. But instead of rolling with what they came up with in a span of hours, they gave themselves a little more time to polish what they were playing.
"On the new one, Frankie and I both were consciously like: Maybe we don't have to write all the lyrics and melodies in one night," Frobos said. "I did that for a couple of songs—the impulsive thing. I did want to try to keep that creative muscle working, but I definitely revised super hard."
The result is Networker, out November 1. In a lot of ways, it feels similar to their first two records. All three run just 30 minutes long. They all spill over with rough-edged, unbridled post-punk energy. They're all filled with songs that take unorthodox turns and throw sounds on top of each other in ways that shouldn't work, but do. And yet Networker feels more considered than Omni's other outings.
Where Deluxe and Multi-Task are collections of songs that make sense together, Networker is a statement. Frobos's songwriting centers on living in the digital age: the pitfalls of constant connection; the double lives we lead online and in real life; the bizarre effect that forging and maintaining relationships through a screen can have on a person.
"I didn't set out with any general idea for this record, but I noticed there was a technological-disenchantment-2019-living kind of thing that was starting to weave its way in," Frobos said.
"It probably seeped into the record more than we even ever intended it to, just because that's our existence," Broyles said. "I want to disconnect all the time, and you just can't do it. Just having my phone on me, I think subconsciously there's this level of anxiety that's just always there."
"It's a gift and burden that we all have to live and reckon with, all the time," Frobos said. "The socials, the way press works now, the way people listen to music—the grasp is getting tighter, and it's a weird thing to live with."
Networker is Omni at their most conscientious and their most refined—the product of an already great band thinking critically about how they could be even better, and working diligently to realize that vision. It's endlessly relistenable, the kind of record you want to play right back from the beginning the second you finish it. More than anything, the album marks Omni's arrival from a miraculously good bedroom recording project, forged on a whim, into a band wielding their talent with intention. And they're just getting started.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.