From the angular opening chord sequence you can tell that Time of Orchids is an unusual rock band, guitar-based but clearly opting for a more intellectual and complicated approach to their music. The band is made up of New Yorkers Chuck Stern, Eric Fitzgerald, Jesse Krakow, and Bodie, playing guitar, synth, bass, drums and 'foam machine'. Easy comparisons are to 5uu's, Motor Totemist Guild, Thinking Plague, Present, Bob Drake, and even Massacre, though this band is in a class of its own, taking the rock idiom into odd and under-explored realms. While sometimes majestic and dramatic, this seems to be more as a side effect of the writing rather than pointedly trying to be so; that gracefulness is more than counterbalanced by many frenetic and intense moments.
The promotional literature makes much of their influence from soundtracks, which you'll hear mostly in the ramp-up of the first few tracks. Except for the brief instrumental opener, the ten tracks present lyrical songs with long instrumental sections, generally using complex orchestration that frequently shifts and contradicts direction and time signature. It's not about rapid fire playing, though the band is technically excellent, and there's a certain calmness in the midst of chaos in even the most vicious moments, allowing gorgeous melodic and dramatic aspects of the music to shine. Many of the pieces use a series of builds and releases, driven by straight or effected guitars and synthetic textures, punctuated and in counterpoint to inventive drumming and bass work.
The opening two pieces, the short "In Color Captivating" which dovetails into "Windswept Spectacle" are good examples, the latter a song with a building dynamic that uses synths and strings in intelligent ways, never pandering or softening the overall sound. The lyrics are imagistic and literate, powerful poems with strong shades of meaning, as in "Darling Abandon," which turns a short set of verses about our place in society into a massive and cathartic release using a simple refrain. It doesn't always flow easily, and "We Speak in Shards", one of the longest pieces at about 10 minutes, while lyrically interesting, bogs down in twisting changes and heavy excess. In contrast the other large work, "Crib Tinge to Callow," effectively uses odd meters, start-stop playing, layer after layer of vocals, Beefheart inspired guitars, and screaming theater organs to make a dense and damagingly thick slab of a song.
Don't expect to walk away snapping your fingers to any of their tunes, they are often formidable but always emotionally heartfelt, each song an intense universe of ideas. If a band could have conceived music like this in the 70's it would have been hailed or feared as a masterpiece. Now it's hard to guess what the reception of an album like this could be, given the massive diversification of rock music. That aside, Time of Orchids have made an album to immerse oneself into, that's sometimes compelling, sometimes a head-scratcher, but absolutely impressive in its ambition and execution.
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