Friday, November 05, 2004

One final day of The Orchids. Like many, I discovered them after they'd called it a day. I don't think that they ever toured the US, so even if I'd been on top of developments at Sarah records during the band's existence, I still would've known them only through recordings. I'm sometimes tempted to delve further into the mysteries of the Sarah label, but then I think about the period when glenn of The War against Silence suddenly found out about Sarah and set off on a quest to retroactively participate in a moment that had ceased to exist. While the experience seems to have made him happy, I was always reminded of the Bradbury story "The Man" where a guy traipses the cosmos in a desperate effort to land on a planet concurrently with Jesus (in this story, every planet with a population gets a Jesus), always arriving a week, a day, an hour, or a few seconds too late. I also think about my own experience with Small Factory, a slightly Sarah-like US band that I followed intently at one time and now can't listen to without becoming catastrophically depressed. Then I start to think about the endless stream of people who arrive at this site after googling Small Factory drummer Phoebe Summersquash, and I wonder what exactly they're hoping to find. So I've never made a concerted effort to know all there is to know about Sarah, and I deal with The Orchids without taking into account their place in a small and largely forgotten English cult.

Given that, to me they were a faceless band with a fairly non-descriptive name (and the album art doesn't give away much either). The only reason I bought The Orchids' double LP Epicurean - A Soundtrack when I found it -- at Holy Cow mixed in with a stack of 12" dance singles (typical Holy Cow filing system)-- was a combo of the Sarah name, unusually uninformative cover art, and the fact that it was manufactured in France (I'm vaguely predisposed to pay attention to albums that aren't made in Canada, the US, England or Germany, as you don't see many of them in Brooklyn). There are so many great records that I've bought based on flimsy evidence that I get a little nervous when I think about a future where there's only mail-order and downloading. I mean, if I only had Amazon to rely on I probably wouldn't have found out about those cute Drag City promo CDs. Just as an example.

I'm still surprised that The Orchids didn't make a bigger splash. I wouldn't call myself a rabid fan, but I swear I have a harder time deciding on favorite Orchids songs than I've had with almost any band of ever featured. They seem to have managed uncanny quality control for much of their career. I find this especially impressive because they didn't stick with the same sound throughout. They did English guitar pop (post-Smith's variety), moody psych-pop (like that track Yawn from a few days ago) and then dancier stuff, especially towards the end of their career. Having covered two of those three categories yesterday and the day before, I'm aiming today's tracks in the general direction of the well-meaning Belle and Sebastian fan who's just coming to grips with the fact that there ain't going to be another Tigermilk/Sinister. As with every band that "sounds like B&S" other then Camera Obscura, The Orchids don't really sound like Belle and Sebastian, but they occasionally seem to be working from a similar set of influences, and there's some resemblance in the vocals.

Here's a trio of songs from Epicurean - A Soundtrack, which compiles a slew of their stuff. I'd pick it as the place to start investigating the group if you don't want to wait for a reissue program, as it touches on a bunch of different styles and is, frankly, crammed with great songs far beyond the call of duty. It did come out on CD and the CD sounds very nice. First up is It's Only Obvious, which strikes me as something that would have been a huge hit if it had only been recorded in time to appear in a good John Hughes movie. Next, here's the anthemic (my mind briefly turns to U2, but a kinder, gentler U2) Something For The Longing. Finally, here's an uptempo track called Caveman that's kind of jangle-pop, though the production suddenly gets more interesting 35 seconds in.

I'll stop there, though I'm tempted to post song after song. Hope you like some of this, and I feel fairly sure that someone's going to reissue all of it sooner or later. Discography with album covers is here.

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