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Ohmme Grown

On its latest album, the art-rock duo sounds undeterred by a pandemic-stricken world.

Sima Cunningham (back) and Macie Stewart   Photo: Ash Dye

What images come to mind when you hear the word “rock ’n’ roll”? Bejeweled Brits in smeared makeup trashing hotels? Swaggering egomaniacs traversing the country in upscale buses? Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, the late-20-something singer-guitarists who together form Ohmme, don’t exactly conform to such tropes. Before they go on tour, one of the first things they do is figure out where they can go camping.

“If you’re driving 20 hours to get to the West Coast, you might as well spend a night or two in some really killer national parks,” Cunningham says. “We’ve camped in Joshua Tree, Canyonlands, Camp Saguaro. A couple years ago, before we had a booking agent, we blocked off two days in Utah to just camp.”

The duo brings a healthy dose of the great outdoors to Ohmme’s sophomore album, Fantasize Your Ghost (out June 5). It was recorded in a barn in Albany, Wisconsin, about 30 miles southwest of Madison. Though they say the LP is filled with “bugs and birds,” it’s difficult to make out chirping vermin, and Fantasize Your Ghost has none of the rustic tumble of the Band or early Bon Iver — it’s the polished, muscular sound of a duo fully realizing its potential, with crisp drumming, fractured Sonic Youth–style guitar riffs, and swiveling vocal harmonies. Even on gentler songs, such as “Twitch” and the closing track, “After All,” Ohmme is more assured — and more badass — than on its debut, 2018’s Parts.

Fantasize Your Ghost is weirdly timely. Cunningham and Stewart wrote the majority of it on tour, all the while mulling what “home” means when you’re constantly on the road. Now they find themselves in a sour inversion of that: stuck at home and unable to travel around the country playing music. “Being in a band and on the road for a year and a half and then to have that pretty much be gone for the foreseeable future is jarring and strange and kind of scary,” Stewart says.

But they didn’t approach sheltering in place as a complete bummer. Friends since their days at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School (where Stewart was part of Kids These Days, with Vic Mensa, among others), they have been busy recording new material in separate home studios and patching it together online. “It is nice to have a break that’s a little mandatory,” Stewart says. “It gives everyone time to think about what they want to be doing.” Such contemplation grows out of Fantasize Your Ghost’s deeper inquiry: how to navigate adulthood in the present day. With repeated listens, the knotty rhythms and oblique lyrics sound less like postadolescent angst and more like the complications of growing up.

For now, Cunningham and Stewart are baking away any frustrations. When asked what they’re doing to keep themselves preoccupied in quarantine, they respond simultaneously: “Bread! Bread! Bread! Bread!”

 

Three More Summer Music Picks

1. Owen

The Avalanche
June 19

Mike Kinsella is best known for his roles in emo bands such as American Football, but he produces his most tender work in this mononymous solo project. That continues here in a gleaming mix of his round singing, serene guitars, and punchy, slow-tempo drumming.

2. Sam Prekop

Comma
September 11

The lead singer and guitarist of the Sea and Cake brings the breeziness of his everlasting indie-rock band to this solo release, on which he forgoes his uniquely whispery vocals for bursts of improbably sunny and infectious experimental electronic music.

3. Ganser

Just Look at That Sky
July 31

Usually, this is the time of year to listen to bright pop, but in the summer of COVID-19, stern, knife-sharp music from this postpunk outfit is exactly what you’ll want. Throw this on while wearing your new go-to hot-season clothes: black shirt, black jeans, black boots.

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