Kinda late to the party on this one, but its never too late to review a good record right? Some may be put off by the vocal treatment, but once you lock into his timbre and elocution, there’s a lot going on with these songs, both structurally and lyrically. Repeated listens reveal clever chord structures, word play and melodic inventiveness. And there’s thoughtful instrumentation and production, with banjos, horns and strings, used tastefully.
Overall, it’s a break up record, but one more of redemption than bile. According to Eric Anderson (the brains behind Cataldo), “I have such happy memories of making this record about such an unpleasant time…I think that disparity, the peculiar warmth of this album’s melancholia, is what makes me proudest now. I hope that feeling isn’t something I’ve imagined. I hope it’s an ornament that seems intrinsic and essential. Like an engraving worn with the characteristic patina of something truly old.”
Finally figured out what the song “Prison Boxing” itself is about: rediscovery of friends after a break-up, people you took for granted whom you now have time to hang out with. “My friends say, ‘How are you? It has been too many years’ And I say, ‘With purity and candor I’ve missed you.’” Don’t know if a break-up song has expressed a sentiment quite like this.
Have to admit, not a big a fan of the really raw tracks (tracks #1, #6-#8). But the rest really holds up.
Check it out below:
A behemoth at 73 songs. A lotta meh, a few stinkers by luminous egos and a few gems. Overall, kept thinking that the best person who covers Bob Dylan songs is Bob Dylan. I’d rather hear Dylan’s garbled, twisted rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” than Jeff Beck’s bloated turd. Also, no Robyn Hitchcock? What a diss.
- Johnny Cash – “One Too Many Mornings” Not sure which Cash era this is from, but this cover is golden. A tough act to follow as the first song on the collection. Hard to follow the man in black.
- Billy Bragg – “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” What a great song. Bragg does it justice with a simple arrangement and a humble, strong delivery
- Miley Cyrus – “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” Give the Nashville machine credit on this one. Gotta say it sounds great!
- Bettye LaVette – “Most of the Time” Wow. Everybody playing on the tune is holding back, barely making the beat. Guitarist sounds sweet with Fender vibrato and LaVette just imbues every line with soul.
- Pete Seeger – “Forever Young” Awesome! With a choir of kids in the back and Seeger delivering the lyrics like a homily.
- Sugarland – “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” Rousing version of this tune, cool interpretation.
- Patti Smith – “Drifter’s Escape” Totally appropriate pick for Patti. Such a monotone song, so arty as it were.
- Joan Baez – “Seven Curses” Again, perfect pick.
- Bryan Ferry – “Bob Dylan’s Dream” Cool synth arrangement of a somewhat obscure tune
- Silver Sun Pickups – “Not Dark Yet” Bold pick and they (almost) do it justice
- We Are Augustines – “Mama, You Been On My Mind” A great tune and they render it with heartfelt tunefulness
- Angélique Kidjo – “Lay Lady Lay” Really weird interpretation and cool hearing women belt out some of those great lines
- Pete Townshend – It’s like Pete trying to sound like Bob. Eek.
- Kei$ha – No one should every let her sing a cappella. Never ever again may this be allowed to happen.
- Lenny Kravitz – Stop yrself.
- Carly Simon – As soon as she hit the line “makes love like a woman” had to skip
Haven’t heard a band that made this much sense in a long time. Been obsessively listening to their previous releases, Benaki and Slight Fountain, but thinking Hermit Thrushes’ Mystery Ocean could be their apotheosis. Like the other two records, Mystery Ocean is comprised of compositions in odd time signatures which challenge and sooth at once; ambient ruminations of the darker variety; and, lastly, the occasional “bedroom” recording. It clocks in at less than 30 minutes, which belies the fount of ideas ensconced within. Meters from outer space mixed with an indie pop sensibility that breaks the heart. Lots of songs about dreaming: living dreams, walking with dreams, all kinds of dreams. Songs lull you in with pentatonic melodies only to whiplash you with jarring angularity. Despite its various protestations and rebuffings, ultimately something welcoming about the music, wanting to share a worldview, something intimate, revealing, raw, yet at the same time wrapped in a cloak of complexity.
In an interview with Flotzam, Yianni talks about the refusal to comply with traditional verse/melody while nodding his hat to it: “I think I just have a short attention span…I feel bored if something happens too much.” Thank god for his short attention span; it fosters music that defies predictability and keeps the ear engaged. Yes, this record makes me extremely happy, listen after listen, affirmation that people are still pushing boundaries and composing with fire.
Would highly Benaki and Slight Fountain. They also warrant repeat listenings.
Been waiting a long time for this record. A long time. Like 8 years long. And now Orchestraville’s Poison Berries is at last here.
Odds are you don’t know this band. You should. In the 90s, they released some amazing records that defined the avant-pop genre. The compositions of Chris Forbes on those early records remain a hallmark of creativity within – and beyond – the boundaries of song smith mastery. Their first couple records contain numerous gems that never received the attention they deserved.
For example, check out “Ersatz Love” from the eponymous Orchestraville (1998). Completely amazing:
These guys were so on their game in ‘98. And then they followed it up At night, it is particularly lovely. (2001). Too hard to pick a favorite track from that one, but if forced, it’ll have to be “Dog As A Catalyst”:
And now after years of no Orchestraville fix, Poison Berries is finally here. The verdict? Well, it would seem that Orchestraville have pulled a Mommyheads.
What does that mean? Well, to explain, we must discuss another seminal yet obscure band from the nineties with a sensibility that defied convention with creative aplomb. In the pantheon of avant-pop, The Mommyheads sit among the stars. Their record Acorn, which can’t even be purchased any longer, is a masterpiece and their follow ups hold their own, sparkling with the clever crafting of pop oddities. They then were signed to Geffen and released an eponymously titled record that eschewed the odd in favor of demonstrating proficiency within the genre as opposed to stretching the genre.
Poison Berries is akin to The Mommyheads big label debut. Forbes flexes his songcraft muscles here, writing songs with hooks that don’t push boundaries but instead sate the ears. There are the occasionally signature moments of guitar dissonance, with flat 5ths and chromatic clashes. But these are few and far between. Most songs are characterized by a maturity, a confidence in pop.
And, overwhelmingly, most of these songs seem wrapped up in a bittersweet plea. These songs are not shimmery. Nor are they sappy. They contain a melancholia, a resignation that fits in well with the title of the record itself. Beware the poison berry. “If yr feelin blue I learned a thing or two about making sorrow seem sublime” – a signature line from the record that characterizes the world weary tone that pervades the record. Forbes voice is weathered. It cracks, it croons, it yearns without being satisfied. Even on the sunnier tracks, the lyrics belie the poppy sheen. Now, there are a few tracks that branch out: “Thank You Mr. Washington” and “I Take It Back” provide balance to the levity of the other tunes. But, for the most part, Poison Berries is, well, a bit dark. In an elliptical way. Lyrics suggest and connote without ever being direct -- the twisted turn of a phrase against a surprise minor chord.
For example, consider “You Wanna Be Like That.”
With a head nodding classical guitar riff and a gorgeous trombone solo, the song is pretty as can be. Yet the lyrics hint at failure and loss, the inability to meet the expectations one sets for one’s self. The song also has what could be the best line of the record: “dishwashers in hell never see a clean plate.”
In a similar vein is “A Bird Without Wings.”
Again, there is this passive resignation in the song, a failed relationship about competing with one another, comparing one another, bringing one another down. “You picked me out and didn’t even know why.”
This is a mature record. The production elegant, layers of tasteful guitar, bass lines and drums that compliment rather than overwhelm, and keyboards that round out the sound. The songwriting is top notch; the band is in command. (Oh, and you can get it on limited edition vinyl too.)
So what is next for Orchestraville? Will we see Forbes muse return? And when? And in what form will it take this time?