Duo in the Sun: A reconfigured Om still shines.

The loss of a member isn’t a small matter for a duo. When Chris Hakius, the drumming half of Om, a drums-and-bass group, left partner Al Cisneros in early 2008, most folks figured the band was done. Now it’s clear that Cisneros’ meditative, repetitive bass lines, mantra-like vocals and stoned spirituality are the real heart of the group’s unique sound. Emil Amos, a founding member of Portland post-rock collective Grails, is Cisneros’ new foil on the skins. God Is Good is the first recording of this new incarnation, and while it includes some unexpected twists, it also sounds immediately familiar. Amos adopts Hakius’ straightforward but hard-hitting drumming, which always underscored the relentless repetition of Om’s music, allowing Cisneros’ hypnotic bass lines to ebb and flow. And “Thebes,” the 19-minute album centerpiece, would fit right in on older Om albums like Conference of the Birds or Pilgrimage. Unfortunately, “Thebes” is also the weakest part of God Is Good. The lyrics are typical Cisneros fare—incomprehensible neo-hippie stuff like “Candescent glow of Atman-Sovereign/Carry on O seeker/Indweller of the particle formed systems mechanics now perceived”—and the music fails to reach the transcendent heights of Om masterpieces like “At Giza.” While such earlier works had a clear compositional thrust, “Thebes” seems comparatively directionless, a weakness amplified by the song’s length. It’s in its shorter tracks that God Is Good gets interesting. In each of the three pieces that follow “Thebes,” Om experiments with something different: a flute solo in “Meditation is the Practice of Death,” a serpentine bass melody in “Cremation Ghat I.” The tamboura drone that forms “Cremation Ghat II”’s sonic backdrop seems a bit trite at first, but then, a third of the way through the song, a mournful Mellotron rings through the duo’s restrained instrumental. At the climax of the Mellotron line, Cisneros’ bass comes up to a higher register and picks up the melody, buoyed by swells of tamboura, and the album’s aimless moments are forgotten as Om once again turns its eyes skyward and embarks on a singleminded spiritual quest.