From 2007 to 2014 Cullen Omori’s life was peachy.
He was the frontman of Smith Westerns, five Chicagoans that fused glam and fuzz into a swirl of bright sound, and one of the most promising young indie bands the scene had in a while. They were beloved by both the public and critics alike, and had it all going for them, but with their third and final album Soft Will, the band’s tank was running on fumes. You could hear it in the sound. Sure, there was still that exciting mix of glitz and attitude in their sound, but there wasn’t that same energy that sprung out from the record as it did on their second album Dye It Blonde. With some time off the road and out of the studio in 2014, for the first time since practically their inception, it gave some of the band time to think, and creative differences eventually put the final nail in the coffin.
Omori didn’t take it too well. Being in Smith Westerns is all he’d ever known up until this point. But he didn't want that to be the end of his story; while other members Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich formed indie folk group Whitney, he went solo signing on to famed Seattle label Sub Pop, and releasing New Misery in 2016. The title of the album should give you some clue as to the headspace Omori was in at the time, as should track titles like “Poison Dart”, “Sour Silk” and “Synthetic Romance”. But the album wasn’t a depressing, gloomy mess - far from it. Yes, there were dejected, melancholic moments, but alongside them sat downright sunny moments – “Cinnamon” and “Hey Girl” to name two. The prevailing feeling on the album was one of discontentment though. You just felt Omori wasn’t happy in his own skin. He saw a future for himself and his music, but it wasn’t as bright as he was hoping it would be.
With new album The Diet, that’s all changed. While Omori was distant and jaded at times on New Misery, almost fading away every now and then, here he sounds rejuvenated, happy, even lovestruck on occasion. The songs are beautifully crafted, shimmering with an alluring magic and aura, existing in their own time and space. Opener “Four Years” sets the tone, full of jangly, twinkling guitars, Omori’s vocals rich and spirited. In the rosy “Happiness Reigns” he’s gazing at “pictures of you and me in love”, before promising there’s “so much to come” in swaying ballad “Natural Woman”. It’s all so hopeful and luminous, a reflection of the headspace the singer’s now in, worlds apart from a couple years ago. Omori’s rediscovered life’s good side, and found more of himself in the process; ultimately, that’s led to him being able to pour a whole lot more of his heart and soul into his songs, and it’s a beautiful thing.
At one point, he sings, "I never wanted to be haunted by the things I never did”. It’s the most revealing line of the album. Cullen Omori doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. No longer is he a lost soul; he's dreaming in colour again. “Second chances can only get better” is the triumphant attitude in “Last Line”, and The Diet is a warm, glimmering, vibrant testament to that.