Since Jim Coles took on the mantle of Om Unit, the English producer has sought to challenge himself and his audience by going beyond the confines of genres and styles he has so far explored. In the process he has found success by striving for more feeling, for a more human and daring electronic music. This journey continues with ‘Self’, Coles’ third album as Om Unit and a true follow-up to his 2013 debut ‘Threads’.
‘Self’ captures Coles in a period of growth, change, and experimentation. Inspired by personal psychological and emotional healing work, and a vision of the self as an egg — which Coles later on discovered is a Jungian archetype — the album blends dubwise, bass-heavy music with the space of experimental ambient compositions and the daring imagination of a cold wave science fiction soundtrack.
The first Om Unit album on Coles’ own Cosmic Bridge label, ‘Self’ offers new forms amid familiar touches. Stripping away what people might expect, Coles deconstructed and reimagined his work so far as a challenge to himself and, in turn, to his fans.
The album opens with ‘Cold Love’ and ‘Passages’, two minimalist tracks that deconstruct the tropes Om Unit has become best known for and teases the listener with games of tension and release. This approach is revisited later with ‘Unmasked’, what Coles describes as ‘a power diagram’ of dancefloor ideas, and ‘Field of Dreams’, which began as an imagined dream about hardcore and ends up like a rave track heard inside someone else’s head, a mediation on the roots of a sound that has been central to Coles’ career so far.
Some choice vocal collaborations help anchor ‘Self’ beyond the abstractions of instrumental music. Bristol’s Rider Shafique lends his rugged voice to an inner monologue on ‘Nothing’. As the track’s rhythm unfolds at a seemingly glacial pace, Rider invites the listeners to embrace suffering and see how “in order to grow, we need the sunshine just as much as we need the rain.” Manchester’s DRS, whom Coles calls “one of the realest lyricists in drum & bass,” takes an equally empowering approach on ‘Make Believe’ over a beat that skews structural expectations. The last, but by no means least, vocal contributor is Amos, aka Amina Osmano of A/T/O/S, who lends her soulful tones to ‘What I Can Be’, an uplifting song that leads listeners into the light.
Fans of Om Unit’s more dancefloor-minded output are not forgotten. There’s the epic ’Out of the Shadows’, inspired by the importance of releasing trauma from our bodies, it's meld of soaring strings and gentle breakbeats bringing to mind classic era Metalheadz or early Massive Attack; the hopeful dance music of ‘Twilight’ with its inviting flute sample and punchy rhythms; the dubstep meets jungle of ‘Despite It All’; and the romantic yet melancholy footwork of ‘Cloudwerk’. The album ends with ‘Tahatan’, the Sioux word for hawk and — via its rhythmic lurch, bird samples, and layering — an invocation of key steps in Om Unit’s journey to date.
As Coles admits ‘Self’ is not an obvious album, but then again he has never been an obvious producer. Over the years that has meant exploring the potentials of hip-hop beats, the space of slow-motion house music, or the frenzy of footwork patterns and coming out the other side with personal takes fashioned from experience, experimentation, and excitement. With ‘Self’, Coles is once again putting Om Unit forward as a connector — between musical ideas, studio techniques, and potential emotional outcomes — rather than a purveyor. The album hides its beauty behind stylistic flexibility, inviting listeners to hear and feel the experiences and memories that make up who we are.
a1. Cold Love
a3. Out of the Shadows
b1. Nothing (feat. Rider Shafique)
b3. Make Believe (feat. DRS)
c3. Despite It All
d2. What I Can Be (feat. Amos)