Omar S - Just Ask The Lonely


United States


FXHE Records

Release Date

January 2005


House, Techno

Reviewed By




Omar S – Just Ask The Lonely (2005)

Just ask the lonely, the urban outcast, the lunatic of the big cities; especially when it comes to Detroit, a real blemish on the face of American capitalism. Alex Omar Smith, also known as Omar-S, is a true product of this already severely degraded environment during the heyday of the Detroit Techno counter-aristocracy – the likes of Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, all those innovators and living legends.

Things hadn’t improved by 2005 in the Motor City, far from it, when Omar-S came out of nowhere, working at Ford at the beginning of his musical career, having no network, and not giving a single fuck. He had already released an album under the name Oasis (with a certain Shadow Ray, whose existence seems dubious to me…) and a few 12″, right from the start on his own label FXHE, and initially without any visuals, only hand-written serial numbers with markers that, according to legend, he stole during his work hours on the assembly line… “Just ask the lonely” is his first ambitious work as a “solo” artist, conceived as an album, and while it already hints at the scents of his more recent and well-known releases, it exudes loneliness and the suffering that goes along with it. Alex Smith will never be as melancholic again in his future records, although he never stopped doing what he wants, when he wants. That’s because, while an Omar-S style is already discernible, the producer doesn’t care about genres, trends, or the sometimes sterile opposition between techno and house; if he produces a track, it’s because he has an idea, plain and simple.

The beginning of this album is particularly disorienting: “Jit” resembles an impossible attempt at ethereal hardcore techno, with a very high BPM but enveloped in melancholic synths, while “I Love U Alex” takes the listener by surprise with its grim rhythms and distant female soul vocals, as if from the artist’s dreams. These two tracks may not be the most memorable, and yet they already set a raw and intimate atmosphere. Alex Smith is alone with his machines, and from “Strider’s World” onwards, they start speaking to him in the most alien, inhuman language imaginable. This track starts with a kick, seemingly completely random but unstoppable at the same time. Then a bassline, as simple as it is desperate. And finally, the machine’s screams, as if it were rebelling after being tortured and then abandoned in the Detroit factories. All the producer has to do now is set up a progression, the kind of infinite build-up that true techno artisans are known for… I’ve never heard anything like “Strider’s World,” neither before nor since; it’s the kind of loop I could let play endlessly, and I still can’t fathom how it could come from a human brain, which suggests a truly experimental approach from Omar-S, allowing for randomness and unsuccessful attempts.

As for the rest of the album? The title track is another masterpiece and perhaps the album’s focal point, a long house digression with more upfront melancholy than ever, astonishingly simple yet unstoppable. It’s based on a peculiar bouncing beat and an ethereal piano that Omar-S lets reverberate for 10 minutes, which will rarely seem so short for what is essentially a simple loop. It displays the same mastery as “Strider’s World” in building a progression from very simple components, alternating the appearance and disappearance of different percussive elements. The five tracks I haven’t mentioned yet, although they are somewhat less memorable, share with the two already discussed a tendency toward a gritty, raw sound, but without going to the extremes of the forthcoming outsider house of the 2010s. It all simply reeks of analog, making even something like the acid track “Congaless,” which could have been insignificant, immensely endearing. However, I’ve always found that “100% House” and “Out of Control” meander a bit, at least in a home listening context. The tradition of the genre is to let loops stretch to allow DJs to use them as they please, which has long made the concept of a dance album impossible, a sort of oxymoron… “Track #8” is a nice attempt at abrasive and melancholic techno, but again, a bit too long, while “A Victim” more resembles a completely unique garage house track with its desolate landscapes and maddening vocal loop. A classic that will reappear in Omar-S’s later mixes, which is never insignificant, as no one uses his tracks better than he does.

Overall, the album is too long and a bit tedious to listen to outside of its peaks, which are as unique as they are addictive if you’re into the genre and have gotten caught in the whirlwind. Alex Smith would somewhat solve this problem in his later albums, by knowing when to shorten his tracks when necessary. Still, “Just ask the lonely” is a true classic, and its fragrance of solitude and motor oil has no real equivalent.

La version française originale de cette chronique est disponible sur Guts Of Darkness.