Monday, February 16, 2009

SXSW '09 Pick #3: The Orchid Highway

The Orchid Highway

The Orchid Highway
Rainbow Quartz Records


Vancouver, BC has a great connection to the UK. Rain! It's no surprise that band based in '60s Britpop harmonies and psychedelia come from there. The big surprise is that The Orchid Highway is both slow and upbeat. The music grabs you in places, the lyrics do in others, the harmonies get you, the guitars do, or combinations. Like where they're from in the more forward thinking but '60s sense, the album was recorded on analog and has a rich, deep sound that invokes a life spent indoors out of the rain. Great rock 'n' roll can also be about a really good listen. The Orchid Highway is very good ad it. Their self titled filled with enough jingle jangle guitars and a penchant for touches of other instruments akin to Love and Brian Wilson that you'll dig through your closet to find those paisley shirts again. Sofa Surfer Girl is such a great song title to start an album off with. One automatically knows what it's about. Although "getting the girl" is only next to "losing the girl" in common rock themes, a Sofa Surfer Girl is very particular and instantly familiar. Besides, it's an ode to the perfect girl for every guy who's single (or was) and goes out to see live music. Sofa Surfer Girl should take its place as a term from now on.

Medicine Tree is a demonstration of perfect vocal harmonies that have a shimmering quality and a catchiness that's undeniable and a guitar based sound that can only compliment it. If you ever thought what happens when you mix surf rock with grey skies, Let's Stay in Instead is the perfect slow epic for a rainy day, but the added flute gives some optimism for clearer skies. Let's Stay Instead is the walrus running through the strawberry fields.

Next World has an opening psychedelic riff with just the perfect hook to excite you about hearing a great song for the first time, but the cool trip gets a great accentuation with some distant keyboards and a piano thrown in here and there that's a nice touch, but the harmonic psychedelic guitar work keeps one fixed on the song. It's a great one. Other tracks go into a slower territory that's thickly tripped out enough to stick in your brain when your head is too clouded to hear something faster, but the effect has a permanence. The aptly titled Opiate recalls Riders On the Storm by tempo and organs, but with stronger dual guitars with enough blues to make it more exciting than it's comparison. The full length debut from The Orchid Highway is a challenging diversion since down and uptempo songs are mixed enough that the overall tone of the album changes from track to track. Some songs are upbeat and catch you with hooks and harmonies like Pop Tart Girl.

This is still based on what rock 'n' roll is all about. Since it's only from the point of view of the gender preference of whoever's singing, the listener has to apply whatever's appropriate for their preference. It's still the common theme of "Girls!" Put your own preference into that and then everyone can identify with it. This album might be better titled "Songs About Different Kinds of Women." Then again, hundreds of great albums can share that title, too. The influence and power is switched in Tea With Chandra when we're confronted with "She asked me if I want to lose this crowd? She said you know that I'd make love to you here, but I don't think it's allowed!" The story goes to her making our protagonist tea (!!) and advising that the weather will be bad and that she hopes he hasn't made any plans. The rest of the song is open and metaphorical. A tryst? A crash at someone's place? a great time in company without sex? There's a lot of interpretations to make up. It's no suprise that The Orchid Highway is from Vancouver considering that there's a lot of stuff on their full length debut that takes place indoors and involves "new" experiences or ways of looking at them, at least that's part of the album. Afterall, the songs reflect a progressive environmment that definitely has sex but interprets them as open ended experiences instead of the act. It's those experiences that we grow on since they can be positive on so many different levels and ways without being ultimate. Nevertheless, one might think they're songs about girls taking a break from their second year at Evergreen when they decided they needed to "see the world" after reading On the Road. Not quite hippie girls yet, but not the squeaky clean image, either.

Since life is complex and challenging, but rewarding at the same time, rock 'n' roll can have that element, too. The Orchid Highway is both slow and upbeat. The music grabs you in places, the lyrics do in others, the harmonies get you, the guitars do, or combinations. Like where they're from in the more forward thinking but '60s sense, the album was recorded on analog and has a rich, deep sound that invokes a life spent indoors out of the rain. Great rock 'n' roll can also be about a really good listen. The Orchid Highway delivers on this without sounding dated, dull, too complex, or over the top. With a good '60's base that's simple and has its garage rock roots because of it, 12 string psychedelic guitars, British invasion harmonies, great hooks, some blues, and recording on analog tape only with an ear towards not only making a great sounding recording, but one that is very organic in it's cohesiveness musically, The Orchid Highway is a perfect illustration of what The Paisley Umbrella is all about since it takes a broader, more inclusive approach with different elements that make great rock 'n' roll, but leave a slight challenge to go beyond the standard formula. It sounds great and will hopefully have a broad appeal. As far as the experience and elation of a live rock show goes, these guys are well known for their delivery, so their polished sound on their debut release only scratches the surface. Great rock 'n' roll is a discovery. The Orchid Highway is that discovery. These guys are not full of power chords that epitomizes garage rock, but if you love the elements, you'll know it once you hear the results. Like the motto of their label, Rainbow Quartz, it's pure pop perfection: A combination of '60s melodies and hooks with a little bit of complexity to make it interesting without missing the beat.

Saturday, March 21 BD Riley's (204 E 6th St): TBA
With:

The She Creatures
The Parties
Deleted Waveform Gatherings
Broadfield Marchers
Telepathic Butterflies



Next World

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed TOH last Saturday night (4 Feb. 2011) at the Lofi Performance Gallery in Seattle and it was a great "discovery" -- the audio for this video could easily have been done as live as the visuals for they are an ace band in person. I'm looking forwards to their forthcoming 2nd full length album on Rainbow Quartz and will tell others about 'em.

John Berg, Seattle area new TOH fan