11 February 2015

The Orwells - Disgraceland

So in the UK (where I am based), there is a TV program called Later.....With Jools Holland.  This is where 90% of middle England thinks cool and hip artists play.  When it first started, it was different from other music programs as the bands all played live and it would sometimes have some surprising artists that no-one had heard of before.  It has launched the careers of band's, seen the last death rattles of other; but over recent years it has become more and more beige; Mr Holland looks like a smug little elf that needs punched in the private areas, the bands have become more safe, more middle of the road, more predictable and that semi-resemblance of an edge has been eroded to a small veneer of dull, soulless mass production music for the masses.  Now, you may be wondering why I am starting this review of the second album from the natives of Elmhurst, Illinois - The Orwells.  Well, on the 8th November 2013, The Orwells bucked the trend of a really awful run on that series (apart from The National, The Pixies and Goldfrapp) and made me pay attention to the screen.  It was the first time in a long while that a TV performance of a band had made such an impression on me.  Well, after that I have been meaning to find their next record and review it; but it sort of slipped through the net and was released last year with no real fanfare (at least over here in the UK).  So, it is now time to see if that initial impression has delivered a really good record - here is hoping....

Starting off this album is the song "Southern Comfort" which opens the album with a tale of drinking and general rampage.  It comes across as a good mixture of the Strokes (but with a vocalist who sounds like he can be arsed to be there), old school punk sensibility and a carefree attitude that has been missing from music for far too long.  The retro feeling is not overpowering to the point where it consumes the whole song, it has a good mixture of more tones as well and whilst it is not the most exciting or explosive of openings it is still a very good introduction to the album.  Next up is “The Righteous One” which slows things down with its cocky rebel swagger, it is sounds like the kid who keeps on bucking the latest trend and follows their own path towards something that you can only hazard to imagine.  It was once again not the most immediate of numbers for me, it felt like they slowed it down too soon on this second track; I still hold by the golden rule that you add the slower number at track three – but these guys are obviously just forging their own path like the subject matter of this song and doing what they want.  It once again has a retro tone, but handled not a tribute at all.  It is more a reinterpretation or continuation of the original template to a new audience.  “Dirty Sheets” starts with a wall of indie feedback before dropping into another number that takes its time to introduce itself properly; first impressions are that it is an ok rock song that does not feel very urgent, but after repeated listens it makes for such a good listen that you cannot be anything but impressed by their determination to make their own brand of alternative indie punk.  In this day and age it is great to see that some bands do not sound like the rest of the mainstream.

“Bathroom Tile Blues” however tries to destroy the good work done by the first three numbers.  It is dull, unimaginative and predictable – it does not have the spark that the other tracks have done and feels like it should have been titled “Filler Track Number One”, right time to move on to the next song.  “Gotta Get Down” is a much better song that helps you forget “Bathroom Title Blues” straight away, it is back to the slow chucky riffs, mixed with that high shrilling guitar noise and punk vibe that should be the Orwells calling card to be honest.  It starts off with that slow vibe and lonely loser mentality, the lyrics are something that has been said a million times before (loner who wants to end it all – etc, etc, etc) and then it just explodes (sort of) towards the end.  It just has more of a presence that a lot of mainstream music out there and that makes it more special for me.  “Let It Burn” is another step in the right direction and sounds like the voice of a very pissed of group of people singing in unison – another tale that has been said many times before (this time the self-destructive side of a relationship from the point of view of the person who does not really give a shit, but somehow cared enough to write about it) and it is draped over a fantastic number which is full of energy, passion and drama.  It might be simple, quiet brattish and full of venom, contempt and dead eye stare, teenage angst, but it is also full of that energy that made me pay attention to the band in the first place.  After this is the song which made me pay attention in the first place – “Who Needs You”.  This song still sounds fun even after the last two years, full on indie punk action that sticks two fingers up to the mainstream and perfect combines all the styles that the band have drawn inspiration from.  It is a great calling card and it is another refreshing sight to see that they were not tempted to make it their opening track.

After this they place the breaks on everything with “Norman”; I have no idea why they have added this song, which alone with “Bathroom Tile Blues” crashes the momentum of the album to the grown.  It is slow, dull and not what the rest of the album has promised – next! This brings us onto “Always N Forever”, it is an ode to teenage love and rebellious attitude to the whole concept of a clichéd relationship; this in turn is very clichéd anyway, the song is over sugary and in a strange way it reminds me of Supergrass.  However, it is still better than the last number; so at this point it sounds like one of the best songs ever (it is just an average number, but this is being exaggerated to prove a point.  The penultimate track “Blood Bubbles” is a new take on the old school rock ‘n’ roll song, it have that greaser vibration about it and it also keeps it short and to the point.  It does not outstay its welcome and brings back a bit more interest to this album.  Ending the record is “North Ave.” which sort of sums up this album perfectly.  It does not exactly explode out of the blocks, it does not do anything that has not been done before; but it does it in style – I just wish that the lyrics did not mention doing things at school so much.

As I mentioned in the summation of “North Ave.” this album is does not explode as I wish I had have done; it sort of drifts by in thirty five minutes without making the statement that their live performances I have watched seemed to suggest, their lyrical delivery does need to be looked into as songs about being in school when you have clearly left that part of your life behind a while ago are also sort of creepy.  Also, it has two of the worst alternative songs I have heard for an awful long time – seriously, this album would have been better as a nine track album.  However, there is also a lot of positives from this record, the opening three tracks are really good, “Who Needs You” is still a brilliant number and “Let It Burn” is a perfect example of what this band can achieve when they put their collective mind to it.  It is a decent album, but have they just been keeping some of these songs to the side after their debut.  Whatever the circumstances, the end result does not live up to their live promise.  I hope that they eventually make an album that matches that passion I have seen live, but till then it is down to the selected tracks.

6 out of ten - Now I see where you were going, but not quite there

Top track – Let It Burn

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Orwells website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

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