Thursday, May 29, 2014

Album Review: The Orwells - "Disgraceland" - Why Do The Orwells Have To Grow Up?"

Do you remember when you first heard "Remember When"- The Orwells' first full length album which came out back in 2012? I do. Not the specific place but the feeling I had. From the bedroom punk sound of Lays at Rest to the blistering obnoxiously enticing Mall Rats to the lush cavernous sock hop punk of Halloween All Year to the shimy shake bedlam of Suspended and the staccato sledgehammer of In My Bed I felt like I was transported back in time and hearing punk in embryo. These young kids from Elmhurst, Illinios had this almighty righteous sound that harkened back to the 60s / 70/s proto-punk and garage rock sound of bands like The Kingsmen, MC5 and the Stooges. I was also enamored with Mario Cuomo's razor blade dirty vocals that felt like he must of chained smoked since the age of 9. The over modulated noisey tone with disjointed drumming and all added to the excitement. A great album.

Fast forward to now and the Orwells' sophomore outing "Disgraceland." Super name and I would not expect anything less smart and cheeky from these guys. The title however paints a somewhat false impression of what this album is sonically speaking. I mean, don't get me wrong, I know these boys are maturing, but do they have to grow up so fast? In the short 2 years since "Remember When" the Orwells' sound has evolved into polished mainstream songs. Dare I say that on some of these songs the boys feel more like they are approaching 30 (or maybe that is just their production team??). The song chops are here but the production flourishes and approach feel less proto punk and more 90's mainstream rock. There are production decisions, sounds and flourishes that feel much more cliched than before. Many songs do not have the wild eyed abandon exhibited in "Remember When." The Righteous Ones has song cues and sounds that feel more in line with Smashmouth. Gotta Get Down feels a bit like the Pixies (from now) and Everclear rolled into one. North Ave has a decidedly power poppy feel ala Smith Westerns. Bathroom Tile Blues pretty much stuns me in that I would not be able to pick it out of an Orwells line up. It is free and happy and could have cross over potential with country rock audiences. Grandmas would love it and gladly dance to it at a wedding. Let It Burn sonically exists somewhere between Neon Trees and The Smithereens.

Thankfully there are tracks that still sound like they are coming from an Elmhurst garage. Who Needs You grabs you by the cajones and Mario's vox bristle with an inebriated snarl. Norman feels epic in it's B-Movie punk. Dirty Sheets straddles the boogie rock and blues proto punk fence perfectly. My favorite track, Blood Bubbles with it's angsty tortured tone is big and messy like the best Orwells songs should be.

In the end "Disgraceland" is a solid album, in fact, many of the songs I semi lambast as 90's rehashes are good songs that will undoubtedly find an audience, end up on movie soundtracks, and put money in Mario and the boy's pocket and that is a GOOD thing. There is however a demarcation, a sonic line in the sand that exists on this record and it is no more evident than listening to track 6. Let It Burn and track 7. Who Needs You. When you listen to these tracks back to back as a sort of representations of the two types of music on this record it is a clear and startling contrast of sounds. Both sound good in their own right but are so drastically different. The proto-punk ying to the mainstream rock yang. People who know me, know that I like music with ripped up dirty shoes.

Robb Donker

Stream full album here:  Beta Zumic

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