“Functional” is a dirty word in dance music. No one wants to be merely functional, nor find themselves on the receiving end of utilitarianism. You don’t want to be invited to a “function,” either—you want to go to a party. Yet culture has been tacking in the direction of the functional for a while now. Music is composed to study or sleep or chill to. Algorithms anticipate our desires. Any creative act can be made into content, which computers then sell ads in front of. There are brand “activations,” which is just another word for functions. All this matters rather a lot for the state of dance music, which, at its core, is meant to serve a specific purpose. Even its name issues a command: Dance.
But the best dance music knows all this and blithely ignores it. Instead, it deftly undercuts function with surprise, or pairs it with emotion in sweet harmony. The brothers Overmono have garnered a reputation as both virtuosos of the functional (see the Pavlovian hooks of 2020’s “Everything U Need” or the following year’s “Bby”) and explorers of what lies beyond it (just listen to those plush plucks disintegrate on 2019’s “Le Tigre”). Occasionally these two modes meet, and deliver something like the heart-bursting “I Have a Love” remix. It’s in these moments, when Overmono bridge the gap, that you grasp what they’re all about. The pair grew up on either side of the same small Welsh town, Monmouth, 10 years apart in age, split between separated parents but tethered by a shared upbringing in music—under their dad’s professional tutelage, in the choral and mining band traditions of Wales, and then digging through record bins and banging out rave tapes in the woods. Good Lies, their debut album, inhales the vapors of dance music’s countercultural emergence and steers against the functional course in search of transcendence.
There’s something almost unnerving about the precision with which Overmono operate: The scant palette they draw from—globular basslines, glassy percussion, an array of disembodied vocals—is unerringly clean. Even seeing two brothers teaming up after successful solo careers (Tom Russell as techno titan Truss, younger Ed as breaks magician Tessela) feels uncannily symmetrical. But there’s grit, too, and the tension between the rough-edged and the machine-tooled makes the whole exercise all the more vivid and enveloping. It’s in the straining vocal chops and bit-by-bit build of “So U Kno,” and the glossy, luminous, Frank Ocean-on-acid swirl of “Walk Thru Water.” Not a drop of Smerz’s syrupy, breathless delivery is wasted on the title track as it rattles along with all the tumult of falling in love. They’re happy to take things slow, too. “Vermonly”—one of a handful of more sedate tracks here—sits like a mottled antique mirror in the midst of the album’s energetic closing run, as if inviting you to pause and take a more considered look.
The most abiding moments on Good Lies come when the Russell brothers set aside their laser guides. Closer “Calling Out” sounds like it’s happening in reverse, all hollowed-out kicks and retracting synth stabs. The hiss and stray wind chimes that periodically cut through the tight swing of “Cold Blooded,” and the in-and-out float of its stringy vocal, make it feel like chancing upon a new favorite song as you scroll across the radio dial or drift between Room 1 and Room 2. There are missteps—“Sugarrushhh” is a little aimless; “Skulled” is the sort of love letter to hardcore rave that Burial has done better—but none so big as to lead them off course.
The Russell brothers haven’t been shy about their ambitions to take this show to the big stages; the sky-touching chord progressions would have given it away if they hadn’t. At times, you can almost picture the confetti cannons going off—never more than when they flip Tirzah’s bluesy register into an ecstatic swoon on “Is U.” But Good Lies makes clear that Overmono haven’t sacrificed intimacy or immediacy to the prospect of festival slots and pyrotechnics. Just as the pair’s name conceals a certain domesticity (Overmonnow is a suburb of Monmouth), fuzzy tracks like “Calon”—Welsh for heart—and the undulating “Arla Fearn” offer a sense of grounding that helps the big emotional swings hit. Good Lies toes a fine and, yes, functional, balance. There’s beauty in all this precision too—like an Eames chair, a perfectly weighted spoon, or the cone of a 15-inch subwoofer pushing air out of the bass scoops.
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