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THE ORCHIDS Beatitude #9 CD (Acuarela)

Between the late 1980s and mid 1990s, The Orchids released a string of EPs and three albums on Sarah Records, the songs ranging from well crafted guitar based indie pop to a more commercial electronic sound, taking in a few eclectic surprises along the way. The pinnacle of their Sarah-era output must surely be Unholy Soul, which I counted among my absolute favourite albums back in the 90s and which has continued to stand the test of time. Unholy Soul was their first collaboration with producer Ian Carmichael (One Dove), introducing electronics and samples whilst remaining a predominantly guitar-based album. There are some real classics of accomplished and forward-looking indie pop here, and some tracks even head closer to rock than I had really perceived at the time. Frank De Salvo, Coloured Stone and You Know I'm Fine are all built around the kind of blues-based framework that makes up the basic rock sound, the distortion and near-psychedelic moments of Frank De Salvo and the sleazy riffage of Coloured Stone adding to the general rock orientation of these tracks. The album's main highlight, The Sadness of Sex (Part 1), is an innovative electronic track that needs to be heard for its importance to be fully appreciated.

The Orchids' subsequent album, Striving for the Lazy Perfection, goes all out with the synth-based arrangements, resulting in a number of songs sounding pretty much indistinguishable from the type of electronic pop that was in the charts around the time of its release. I loved the hard-hitting yet atmospheric indie rock track Beautiful Liar, but not being much of a fan of commercial dancey pop as a general rule, I was sadly unable to connect with this album in the way that I had with Unholy Soul, the preceding 10" mini-album Lyceum, and the various EPs. Personal tastes aside though, the fact that The Orchids were willing to experiment with new genres showed this was a band who were not content to tie themselves parochially to one scene, and that can only be a good thing.

The band took a hiatus in 1995, reforming in 2004 and releasing two further albums on the Siesta and Pebble labels. Now they've moved over to Acuarela for their latest album Beatitude #9, comprising 14 tracks recorded in their home studio over the space of three years. Ian Carmichael again shares arrangement and production duties with the band, and the album features the addition of a string section, trombonist, and guest vocalists including Pauline Hynds who had sung with The Orchids during the latter part of their time on Sarah. The album manages to bridge the gap between mainstream and underground appeal, with songs that nod towards commercial (mostly 1980s) pop without alienating the indie audience. She's Just A Girl is uplifting, summertime janglepop. Someone Like You is 80s-ish pop with synths and jazzy trombone; whilst it sounds kinda mainstream, it's way too much fun to be bland. The Coolest Thing is 80s-inspired pop with thumping beats and swirling and pulsating synths, real summer holiday music that's guaranteed to bring a smile to the face.

Hey! Sometimes! is plaintive, jangly indie pop harking back to The Orchids' earlier material, whilst being fleshed out with evocative electronic accompaniment. Good Words (Are Never Long) is electronic pop with shades of vintage soul, featuring the honey-textured vocals of Pauline Hynds. Today's the Day is fantastic forward-looking pop in which sci-fi synth bleepery meets uptempo dance beats and noisy and jangly guitars. A Way to You is a laid-back song accompanied by an ethereal, hypnotic soundscape. Your Heart Sends Me is chilled-out pop incorporating soaring, cinematic strings. We Made a Mess is a minimalistic, melancholic acoustic song punctuated by haunting brass. The album shows a laudable disregard for genre barriers, resulting in some really exciting songs. Whether you're new to The Orchids or have known their music since the start, you cannot miss this album. Available from www.acuareladiscos.com

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Text Kim Harten, 2014.