There’s a long tradition of artist-led bands—including Destroy All Monsters, Talking Heads, Theoretical Girls, and Sonic Youth—that blur the line between popular music and contemporary art. The only thing these bands have in common, besides art school and perhaps a certain affinity for dissonance, is that they all defy easy classification. To this small canon add Chloe Maratta and Flannery Silva, who together comprise the Baltimore duo Odwalla88.
“They’re very, very special,” said the artist Brendan Fowler, who recently launched a nontraditional record label called VR/DM8H943 with “Lilly 23,” an Odwalla88 full length, released in the form of combination embroidered patch and USB drive. “They’re the kind of thing that only comes along very rarely.
“I would say that they’re easily among the top five best things I’ve ever seen in my life of any genre of any art, for sure,” Fowler added.
Odwalla88’s songs are brief, concise, and have the energy of good punk music. Many of them place abstracted spoken-word pieces over a bed of electronic music, focusing heavily on sampled sound collage. Lyrics are chanted, repeated, sampled, and then repeated again. Live, the two members sway side-by-side behind a gear-filled table, maintaining a simmering level of intensity while delivering cryptic-yet-loaded lines like “live laugh love” and “no I won’t plié for you” (both from the song “My Window Ambience”). It feels like a real-time conversation between the duo and their sampler, and it’s often very catchy.
“When we write, we like to write a poem and then we just kind of put the sound under the poem,” Maratta said. “It comes from words first.”
(The group was speaking to me from a tour stop in San Luis Obispo, California. They were gearing up to play a set at the Paramount Ranch art fair in Los Angeles.)
Describing Odwalla88 can be tricky. Music people could refer to genres like No Wave or Riot Grrrl, or talk about the “plunderphonics” of groups like Negativland and People Like Us. Art-world folks might pick up on the confessional lo-fi spirit of Sadie Benning’s early ’90s PixelVision videos, or the fractured, manic syntax of Ryan Trecartin. Odwalla88 has clearly gleaned influence from the underground East Coast music scene, but their output follows its own internal logic.
Silva pointed to the lyric “live laugh love” as an example of “what we want to emulate, that’s what we believe in.” She also acknowledged that “it’s a very ‘Hallmark’ quote.”
As a label head, Fowler is genial and supportive. His own musical performance pieces have taken him from the Los Angeles DIY punk circuit to, more recently, the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was characteristically encouraging about the artistic future of Silva and Maratta, who in their individual practices make work that ranges from installation to self-publishing. Fowler called them conceptual artists.
“To be honest,” he said, “I could see their project really changing the course of the underground in music.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 48 under the title “Live, Laugh, Love.”