Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Orange - Starwheel/Feijoa 7" Single

One day, after typing "shoegazer vinyl" into ebay, I happened upon this little gem. It's a 7" single by a (previously unheard of by me) band called Orange from the early 90's, the golden age of dream pop. I then searched this single on youtube & was lucky enough to find the two songs. After hearing them, I immediately ordered the record. I received it in the mail yesterday.

A few notes on the band: Well...I have none. I know absolutely nothing about Orange except that they released this single, and the two tracks here were featured on a very hard-to-find full-length album. I don't know the band members' names (except for their vocalist, Sonya Waters) or if Orange is even still around. All I can tell you is they were a fabulous dream pop band active in the early 90s.

To call this record a "45" would be a misnomer, as it has to be played at 33 rpms, which surprised me. I didn't think the songs were that long (but oh, I am glad they are!) The record came in wonderful condition in a nice, glossy sleeve (also in excellent condition, despite its age.)

This single was originally released in a box set of 7" records. This box set was a collaboration between Tangible and Bomp! Records (which some of you may know from the Brian Jonestown Massacre.) As I have no interest in any of the other records (I don't think,) I only got this one. Anyway, on to the review...

Side A - Starwheel

The track begins with some slightly detuned strumming on a heavily chorused guitar, then the vocals follow shortly after. Sonya's voice is very high, but also very smooth & pleasing. The drums cut in shortly after all this; these are very dynamic, almost like something you'd hear on an Airiel album. The song as a whole manages to be uptempo and fun, whilst not being too terribly unsettling. It excites you & chills you out at the same time. It would be a good driving song...if I had a record player in my car. 4 out of 5 stars.

Side B - Feijoa

This is where Orange really begins to shine. When I found the track on youtube, my jaw literally dropped. The song opens with some soft drums & dreamy guitar chords that fans of The Cocteau Twins will delight in. This continues for a little while, which is by no means a bad thing; the melody is almost entrancing, making one want to sway to the rhythm & slowly fall onto a nice, comfortable bed...or perhaps that's just me. Anyway, after the guitars have managed to serenade you to near-hypnosis, the vocals come in and snap you out of it. Very powerful & emotion-provoking, and also reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser from the Cocteau Twins. I'm pretty sure the lyrics are...well, non-lyrical, also just like the Twins. However, Sonya's voice is just a bit smaller than Liz's, but by no means less emotional (in my opinion.)
This is the song that sold the record for me. A wonderful, basic example of real, original shoegaze at its best. 5 out of 5 stars.

My only complaint; this record is more of a "tangerine" than an Orange. It's sweet, wonderful, and everything else you could possibly want in a dreampop record, however it's just too short to be completely satisfying. It is, after all, only a single. The practical upshot of this, however, is that there is very little room for error when there are only two songs, and Orange reached (dare I say) perfection on these.

In short, if you have a turntable, definitely pick this up if you get the chance. It's admittedly a bit on the pricey side, but that's when you consider you can run to your local antique mall/thrift store and buy 45s for probably about a buck a piece. Orange is a glistening, bejeweled example of the golden days of shoegaze, unfortunately banished to the realms of obscurity, but it will most definitely not disappoint. 5 out of 5 stars.

PS-if anyone has anymore information about the band, please let me know, as I have been able to turn up very little myself.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Airiel - Winks & Kisses: Crackled EP

Airiel is a shoegaze/nu-gaze band currently located in Chicago, where they are notorious for playing some of the loudest shows in the city, a fact that the band members are very proud of. They have released several EPs, and one album (The Battle of Sealand, which I will review later.)

Crackled was the fourth and last EP released by Airiel in their Winks & Kisses series, which could be purchased individually or as a limited-edition box set. I highly recommend giving these a listen, as you can clearly see the bands evolution into their current sound through these (Crackled is not all that dissimilar to Battle of Sealand, their latest album.) Crackled, unlike the rest of the W&K EPs, features rhythms played on a (seemingly real) drum set, whereas the other EPs used a synthesizer/drum machine. Not that that's a bad thing at all; the synthesized drums give their earlier songs an almost Cocteau-Twins-like sound.

In all my reviews, I will attempt to describe & review each song individually, which I will do here.

1. Airtight Angels

This song, to me, represents Airiel most perfectly. It's fast-paced and fun, but also melodious & emotional. It may surprise some listeners to pop in the CD & have the loud drums and guitar immediately exploding to life, but it's a fun start to a great album.

The melodies are complicated, but decadent, and the lead guitar (even though it's mostly hidden behind the walls of chorused & distorted rhythm guitar) is every bit as exciting as the vocals. It's even got some pretty clever lyrics, something that a lot of Shoegaze songs lack.

"Could have been I lost you when pictures painted in your head and I wasn't there..."

To this day, I still believe this song should have been on Battle of Sealand, as it pairs nicely with songs like Thinktank and Red Friends. Anyway, this is definitely one of the greatest Airiel songs. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

2. Swimming Through Us

I'm largely biased here, because this is probably my all-time favorite song. Period. However, it's for a very good reason. The melodies are deep and rich, giving the listener the impression of swimming in a deep lagoon, the rays of the sun distorted against the ocean floor by the waves above.

Even though this isn't one of their loudest songs, the intensity of the climactic drums & guitars leaves me speechless every time, and that intensity is carried throughout the whole song, eventually swelling to a full maelstrom at the end.

In short, this is one of those songs that emulates the sound of falling in love...or, perhaps, the world ending. Either way, it conveys very powerful emotions. If shoegaze is your thing, then look no further: Airiel has it nailed in Swimming Through Us. Close your eyes and let the melody carry you away. 5 out of 5 stars.

3. Where it Belongs

More on the rock side than most of their songs, this one takes a different direction than the other songs on this EP. It could be compared to The Big Mash-Up (Battle Of Sealand,) but in my opinion, it's nowhere near as fun or climactic. The lyrics aren't as good; quite repetitive, actually. However, it's not bad. It's a good introductory into the shoegaze genre for those who are used to harder rock. 3 out of 5 stars.

4. Shirley Temple Tidal Wave

Better than Where it Belongs, but still not the greatest. The lyrics & vocals are slightly less repetitive, and the melody seems a little more thought-out. There was a lot of room to improve here, too; like in the latter half of the song, if you listen very carefully, you can hear the non-lyrical "doot-doot" vocals in the background. These types of vocals are prevalent in many of Airiel's later songs, and in my opinion, it's one of the elements that defines them. However, they are so quiet in this song that they could be easily mistaken for just another synthesizer or guitar melody. If you can find a video of them playing this song live, these vocals are much louder (and quite pleasant, I might add.) 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Winks & Kisses - Crackled is a short, sweet album, made one of my favorites by the first two songs. Airtight Angels and Swimming Through Us are exemplary, the latter being (in my opinion) one of the greatest Shoegaze songs of all time. If you are thinking of downloading this album but you're on the fence, go for it. 4 out of 5 stars.